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Vamps and Tramps: New Essays 

Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays 

Sexual Personae: 
Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson 






A Division of Random House, Inc. 
New York 



Copyright © 1994 by Camille Paglia 

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright 
Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, 
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously 
in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. 

Paglia, Camille 
Vamps and tramps : new essays / Camille Paglia. — 1st ed. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. 
"A Vintage original." 
ISBN 0-679-75120-3 
1. Popular culture — United States — History — 20th century. 
2. Arts, American. 3. Arts, Modern — 20th century — United 
States. 4. American literature — 20th century — History and 
criticism. I. Title. 
E169.12.P334 1994 
306.4'0973— dc20 94-12191 

Pages 531-32 constitute an extension of this copyright page. 

Manufactured in the United States of America 
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 




The Penis Unsheathed 3 


No Law in the Arena: a Pagan Theory of Sexuality 1 9 

1. Introduction: The Horses of Passion 19 

2. Sex Crime: Rape 24 

3. Sex War: Abortion, Battering, Sexual 

Harassment 38 

4. Sex Power: Prostitution, Stripping, 

Pornography 56 

5. Rebel Love: Homosexuality 67 

6. Conclusion: Citizens of the Empire 92 


The Nursery-School Campus: The Corrupting of 

the Humanities in the U.S. 97 

Gay Stalinism 103 
The Return of Carry Nation: Catharine MacKinnon 

and Andrea Dworkin 1 07 

The New Sexism: Liberating Art and Beauty 1 1 3 

An Open Letter to the Students of Harvard 1 1 7 

On Censorship 1 22 


V I 



Woody Allen Agonistes 1 29 

Our Tabloid Princess: Amy Fisher 133 

The Female Lenny Bruce: Sandra Bernhard 1 37 

Brooklyn Nefertiti: Barbra Streisand 141 

Lolita Unclothed 146 


Diana Regina 1 63 

Television and the Clintons 1 72 

Kind of a Bitch: Why I Like Hillary Clinton 176 

Hillary in the Spotlight 181 
Laying the Ghost of Anita Hill: 

Bill Clinton and Paula Jones 188 

Mona Lisa in Motion: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 191 


The Saint 1 97 
My Brothers in Crime: Benderson, Jarratt, 

Feld, Fessenden 201 
Dr. Paglia: Part 1 of Female Misbehavior, 

A Four-Part Documentary by Monika Treut 234 

Sex War: A Short Film by Luca Babini 250 

Glennda and Camille Do Downtown 277 


Gypsy Tigress: Carmen 307 

Alice as Epic Hero 3 1 2 

Love Poetry 317 
Tournament of Modern Personae: 

D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love 328 
Breviary of the Nude: Kenneth Clark's 

The Nude 339 

The Artistic Dynamics of "Revival" 341 

Sontag, Bloody Sontag 344 



The Star as Sacred Monster 
David Shipman's 

Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend 363 
Madonna in the Shallows 

Sex 367 
Madonna as Gauguin 
Mark Bego's 

Madonna: Blonde Ambition 370 
Tyranny of the Technocrats 
John Ralston Saul's 

Voltaire's Bastards 375 
A Woman of the Century 
Germaine Greer's 

The Change 379 
Scholar, Aesthete, Activist 
Edward Said's 

Culture and Imperialism 382 
The Corpse of Fashion 
Fred Davis's 

Fashion 3 Culture, and Identity 387 
Cry of the Invisible Men 
Warren Farrell's 

The Myth of Male Power 391 


Ask Camille Paglia: Advice for the Lovelorn, 

Among Others 397 

Feminist Fatale 4 1 o 

Bobbitt Versus Bobbitt 4 1 9 

Diary: Sex, Art, and Selling 421 

Extracts 425 


Cartoon Personae 439 
A Media Chronicle 457 




The title of this book evokes the missing sexual personae of 
contemporary feminism. Vamps are queens of the night, the pri- 
meval realm excluded and repressed by today's sedate middle-class 
professionals in their orderly, blazing bright offices. The prostitute, 
seductress, and high-glamour movie star wield woman's ancient 
vampiric power over men. That power is neither rational nor meas- 
urable. The Apollonian rules we pass to govern the workplace will 
never fully control the demonic impulses of Dionysian night. Sexual 
equality before the law — the first great goal of modern feminism — 
cannot so easily be transferred to our emotional lives, where woman 
rules. Art and pornography, not politics, show us the real truth about 

I want a revamped feminism. Putting the vamp back means the 
lady must be a tramp. My generation of Sixties rebels wanted to 
smash the bourgeois codes that had become authoritarian totems of 
the Fifties. The "nice" girl, with her soft, sanitized speech and dec- 
orous manners, had to go. Thirty years later, we're still stuck with 
her — in the official spokesmen and anointed heiresses of the feminist 
establishment. White middle-class personae have barely changed. 
Getting women out of the kitchen and into the office, we have sim- 
ply put them into another bourgeois prison. The panoramic Sixties 



vision, inspired by Buddhism and Hinduism, called the entire West- 
ern career system into question. But that insight has been lost. 

The beatniks, the generation of dissenters before mine, went "on 
the road" — not just physically, like Jack Kerouac, but spiritually. 
Allen Ginsberg, the New York Walt Whitman, made wayfaring 
songs of an exile in his own land. Fusing Hindu and Hebrew chant 
with African-American jazz rhythms, Ginsberg reenergized the pur- 
ist folk style of Bob Dylan, my generation's hobo troubadour, who 
went on to make rock 'n' roll an art form. In "Like a Rolling Stone," 
Dylan forces his faithless heroine to confront the blank-eyed "mys- 
tery tramp," who is both the artist and personified death, the reality 
of extinction that defines life itself. "Think for yourself," said the 
Beatles, and let your mind roam "where it will go." The tramp is 
a rover, exploring the wilderness outside the status quo. 

Until the end of the Fifties, a sexually free woman was called a 
"tramp," that is, a vagrant or streetwalker, a whore. Joan Rivers's 
gleefully insatiable Heidi Abromowitz, dashing to the dock to greet 
the fleet, was the dark alter ego of the chaste middle-class girl. We 
must reclaim the Whore of Babylon, the nature goddess of that 
complex city of arrogant male towers and hanging female gardens. 
Vamps and tramps are Babylonian personae, pagan outcasts. They 
live again in our bold drag queens and gay hustlers, midnight cow- 
boys of the urban canyons. An episode of the Perry Mason television 
series, starring Raymond Burr, was called The Case of the Vagabond 
Vixen. Female sexuality, freed from Judeo-Christian sequestration, 
returns to animal nature. The woman "on the stroll" (streetwalking) 
is a prowler and predator, self-directed and no one's victim. 

Equal opportunity feminism, which I espouse, demands the re- 
moval of all barriers to woman's advance in the political and 
professional world — but not at the price of special protections for 
women, which are infantilizing and anti-democratic. As a Sixties 
libertarian, I also oppose overregulation of sexuality, which has risen 
to a totalitarian extreme over the past decade in America. The 
culture is at risk when civil liberties are sacrificed on the altar of 
career success. Professional functioning in the Apollonian capitalist 
machine — which I laud as the vehicle of woman's modern libera- 
tion — must not be confused with full human identity. Nor can office 



politics dictate our understanding of sexuality, which begins as a 
force of nature outside the social realm. 

White middle-class style, despite the Sixties rebellion, still 
tyrannizes us, because corporate business, with the streamlined 
efficiency of the profit-based work ethic, was born in Protestant 
Northern Europe, before and after the industrial revolution. It has 
been puritanical and desensualized from the start. Bland on the 
surface and seething with Darwinian hostility below, office manners 
grind down and homogenize all ethnic and racial differences. The 
world is going WASP. We must scrutinize and monitor business 
operations when corporations corner monopolies or mushroom into 
faceless global mega-entities rivaling nation-states, but business 
style, fetishizing the white Protestant persona, may be beyond re- 
form, because it is simply too effective. 

We need to recast the daily dramas of our public theater. Med- 
itating on vamps and tramps makes us see the decorous borders of 
professional life. In calling for a "room of one's own," Virginia Woolf 
created a central metaphor of twentieth-century feminism. Emily 
Dickinson, by a turn of the key, had achieved that secure mental 
space, but she was the daughter and sister of successful lawyers. A 
perquisite of privilege and prosperity, the "room of one's own" was 
already too bourgeois for my subversive generation, whose brash 
rock spirit counsels: Get out of the house, and keep on running. A 
car of one's own, the great equalizer, is more the mode of American 
Amazonism. On the open highway, battling stormy nature and dodg- 
ing mammoth eighteen-wheelers (today's piratical tramp freighters), 
woman has never been more mobile, more capable of the archetypal 
journey of the heroic quest, a traditionally masculine myth. 

The new tramp is not a displaced person, except insofar as he 
or she is a refugee from the prison of the nuclear family. Life is a 
condition of searching for meaning — an active and affirmative pro- 
cess, unlike the bunkered defeatism of modernism and postmodern- 
ism. The multicultural twenty-first century will also require ^search, 
as we drift further and further from our ethnic origins. By the prin- 
ciple of what I call creative duality, we must recover and celebrate 
our ethnic roots, while at the same time identifying ourselves with 
the spiritual homelessness of the tramp. The task is to balance phil- 



osophical detachment, the isolated consciousness, with a sense of 
community and engagement with social issues. 

Overprotected in the paternalistic past, women have a special 
obligation to liberate their personae. Male adventurism has always 
been a costly, painful privilege. When the office — by which I mean 
the whole complex of word-based, smoothly cooperative white-collar 
work, in business or academe — becomes the primary paradigm of 
new female achievement, women have cut themselves off from the 
risk-taking, rough-and-tumble experiences that have always tough- 
ened men. Women will never succeed at the level or in the numbers 
they deserve until they get over their genteel reluctance to take abuse 
in the attack and counterattack of territorial warfare. The recent 
trend in feminism, notably in sexual harassment policy, has been to 
overrely on regulation and legislation rather than to promote per- 
sonal responsibility. Women must not become wards and suppliants 
of authority figures. Freedom means rejecting dependency. 

Creative duality also applies to female self-definition. Hyper- 
development of the Apollonian office persona during the day — cru- 
cial if women are to advance to leadership — necessitates contrary 
measures for psychic health. Vamp and tramp, as vivid mental 
states, must be given nocturnal Dionysian license. My brand of 
streetwise feminism demands aggressive guerrilla tactics of speed, 
subterfuge, and surprise. The street walk and street talk, big and 
brassy, are polar opposites of the reserved, compressed body lan- 
guage and modest, subdued voices required by the professional world 
in its contained spaces. The street is nature, the open savanna with 
its long sightlines and the raw, exuberant energies of hunt and pur- 
suit. Communication is African call-and-response, loud because it 
must cover great distances. I am acutely aware of the difficult tran- 
sition from working class to middle class, since I have identified, to 
my career detriment, with the assertive, theatrical style of my grand- 
parents' generation (my maternal grandfather worked in a shoe 
factory) rather than with the discreet good manners of my parents' 
generation, who sought social assimilation in America. 

Vamps and tramps are the seasoned symbols of tough-cookie 
feminism, my answer to the smug self-satisfaction and crass mate- 
rialism of yuppie feminism. I admire the hard-bitten, wisecracking 
realism of Ida Lupino and the film noir heroines. I'm sick of simpering 



white girls with their princess fantasies. The twenty-first hexagram 
of the / Ching is Shih Ho, "Biting Through," which represents the 
forcible overcoming of obstacles. No more sweets. No more placebos 
or false assurances. The eating disorders that plague bourgeois fem- 
inism are the regressive rituals of docile daughters who, on some 
level, refuse to fend for themselves. As an Italian-American child, I 
was fed wild black mushrooms, tart dandelion greens, spiny arti- 
chokes, and tangy olives flecked with red pepper flakes. These were 
life lessons in the sour and prickly, the bitter herbs eaten in the 
tramp's clothes of leavetaking. Auntie Mame, my campy guru, liked 
to say, "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to 
death." The theme of Vamps and Tramps is wanderlust, the erotic, 
appetitive mind in free movement. 

The word "vamp," in the sense of a sexual seductress, is Slavic 
in origin and descends from the Serbo-Croatian vampire legends of 
the bloody Balkans. Our language has a second, less glamourous 
"vamp," this one with French roots, by way of Middle English. 
Derived from shoemaking (the ancestral trade of my mother's region 
in Italy), it describes the leather instep of a boot, the thing that is 
"in the front," "avant/' as in the military and later artistic term, 
"avant-garde" or vanguard. Eventually, to "vamp" meant saving 
or repairing something old by patching it with a new piece — that 
is, using ingenuity, cleverness, and commonplace practicality to 
achieve your aims. From there it entered vaudeville and jazz: in 
musical accompaniment, "vamping" means improvising, orna- 
menting, pumping up the excitement. 

I take vamping in this second sense to describe my interpretative 
style, in classroom teaching, public lectures, and cultural criticism. 
Improvisation in the modern performing arts is ultimately a product 
of Romanticism's stress on energy, originality, spontaneity, and emo- 
tional truth, as opposed to the gleaming technical perfection, ar- 
chitectural symmetry, and cerebral didacticism of neoclassicism. I 
don't want to throw out the old songs; I want to update, customize, 
and supercharge them. I want to put the bomp back into the bomp- 
de-domp. Improv, analogous to Freudian free association, takes you 
by startling leaps and pulses to the heart of the matter. It is Dionysian 
logic, sensory and surreal. Vision comes in psychedelic flashes. "Hot 
tramp!" David Bowie says to a pagan rogue in "Rebel, Rebel." The 



guardians of culture must return to homage and ecstasy. Rifting and 
jamming on the classics, we can both corrupt and redeem them. 

Vamps and Tramps began a year ago as a proposal by my editor 
for a second collection of essays. My first, Sex, Art, and American 
Culture (1992), documented the period following the release of my 
700-page scholarly study, Sexual Personae (1990), when I was drawn 
into national controversies over date rape, sexual harassment, cen- 
sorship, political correctness, poststructuralism, the literary canon, 
women's studies, gay studies, multiculturalism, the role of television, 
and, last but not least, Madonna. The second volume of Sexual 
Personae, on modern popular culture, was completed in 1981 but is 
currently being revised to incorporate the thousands of note cards 
that have accumulated over the intervening decade and a half. That 
volume, like the first, will be released in hardcover by Yale Uni- 
versity Press. 

I was asked to write an essay, to serve as the centerpiece of 
Vamps and Tramps, about the newly contentious debate over homo- 
sexuality and biology, on which I had begun to speak out. I felt I 
should produce instead a more general statement of my sexual phi- 
losophy, in which homosexuality would have its place. Hence the 
main essay here, "No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sex- 
uality," which systematically presents my libertarian views of rape, 
abortion, battering, sexual harassment, prostitution, stripping, por- 
nography, homosexuality, pedophilia, and transvestism. My guiding 
principle is a strict separation between the public and private 
spheres. The sanctity of the latter must be preserved and defended. 
The state should have no power to oversee or regulate solitary or 
consensual activities, such as suicide or sodomy. Hence I strongly 
support the legalization of drugs and prostitution, and I am an 
extreme advocate of the most lurid forms of pornography. 

In the four years since I arrived on the scene (after an ill-starred 
career that included job problems, poverty, and the rejection of Sexual 
Personae by seven major publishers), there has been a dramatic shift 
in thought in America. The fascist rigidity of political correctness, 
in academe and the media, has begun to melt. Heretical ideas that, 
when I expressed them in essays and lectures in 1991 and 1992, got 



me pilloried and picketed, in a torrent of abuse and defamation, 
have now become common coin. My terminology and frame of analy- 
sis have passed into general usage. These are matters for the his- 
torical record, always clearer from a distance than in the chaotic 
present. My strategy has been to change the climate of ideas around 
the academic and feminist establishment, in order to shrink its power 
base. I have used aggressive "strikes," based on war and (my favorite 
sport) football, to damage and punish false leaders. My favorite 
weapon has been satire, which I studied in Horace, Juvenal, Ra- 
belais, Pope, Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bob Dylan, and Mad magazine. 

My meteoric rise — actually, this was the axiomatic "overnight 
success that took twenty years" — was partly due to a restlessness 
in America, a fatigue with dated ideology and an impatience with 
establishment insularity and impotence. These forces contributed to 
the 1992 presidential election of Bill Clinton, a relatively unknown 
governor of a provincial agricultural state (whom I continue to sup- 
port, despite my public criticism of his managerial errors). As an 
ornery outsider of prickly eccentricity and raw populist humor, I 
was a parallel phenomenon to businessman-turned-politician Ross 
Perot and radio personalities Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, 
with their gigantic nationwide following. We have widely different 
political views, but all four of us, with our raging egomania and 
volatile comic personae tending toward the loopy, helped restore 
free speech to America. 

Since the publication of Sex, Art, and American Culture ', I have 
been particularly encouraged by three books. One was published 
by Cambridge University Press in 1989: Colin Falck's intricately 
interdisciplinary Myth, Truth, and Literature: Towards a True Post- 
Modernism. When it came my way in early 1993, I immediately 
ordered twenty copies and sent them to leading scholars around the 
country: this, I prophesied, was the future of literary criticism — 
after the long overdue death of that ugly octopus, poststructuralism. 
The first words I saw on flipping open Falck's book were "Susanne 
Langer." I whooped with joy. Langer is the distinguished philoso- 
pher whose work on aesthetics was widely read and admired in the 
Sixties. When, in the process of writing my academic expose, "Junk 
Bonds and Corporate Raiders," I spent six months reviewing the 



past two decades of jargon-ridden literary theory, I was appalled at 
the total absence of Langer's name — more proof of the ineptitude 
of the current humanities professoriat. 

The two other works deal with feminism. Last year appeared 
27-year-old Katie Roiphe's The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism 
on Campus^ an eloquent, thoughtful, finely argued book that was 
savaged from coast to coast by shallow, dishonest feminist book 
reviewers (a welcome exception being Wendy Kaminer). Just re- 
leased in 1994 is Christina Hoff Sommers's landmark study Who Stole 
Feminism?, which uses ingenious detective work to unmask the shock- 
ing fraud and propaganda of establishment feminism and the ser- 
vility of American media and academe to Machiavellian feminist 
manipulation. This bracingly precise, fact-based book should be 
required reading for every journalist. Sommers is a courageous ac- 
ademic philosopher who was one of the very first to systematically 
critique current feminist ideology and who took tremendous abuse 
for it. Her activism predated by several years the publication of my 
long-delayed first book. Sommers has done a great service for women 
and for feminism, whose fundamental principles she has clarified 
and strengthened. 

The themes of Vamps and Tramps continue those of Sex, Art, and 
American Culture. The progressive principles of the Sixties must be 
rescued from the brackish bog of political correctness into which 
they have sunk. My highest ideals are free thought and free speech. 
I condemn all speech codes and espouse offensiveness for its own 
sake, as a tool of attack against received opinion and unexamined 
assumptions. My heroes are the libertines of the Enlightenment and 
the aesthetes of the nineteenth-century Decadence. Science and art — 
intellect and imagination — must be reintegrated for a complete vi- 
sion of the universe. 

As a militant reformer of feminism and academe, I have followed 
the Sixties design of protest and opposition. The corrupt palace elites, 
arrogant with power, must be exposed and brought to justice every- 
where, whether they are in the literature departments at Harvard 
and Princeton or in the headquarters of the National Organization 
for Women, which at the moment is merely an outpost of the Gloria 
Steinem coterie. Those who have poisoned the cultural atmosphere 



in America or gained high position by unethical means must be held 
accountable. It's Nuremberg time. 

Sex, Art, and American Culture was secretly aimed toward students 
and seems to have succeeded in its mission. It is a handbook for 
the Resistance. I am arming the rebels. For example, "Junk Bonds 
and Corporate Raiders," paragraph by paragraph, is a set of can 
openers by which dissenters can pry open the solipsistically sealed 
discourse of poststructuralism. I seek no followers. I am an irasci- 
ble Aries warrior rather than a politician or diplomat. My kind 
takes the beachhead and pushes the Nazis back; others make the 
treaties. Neither was I a ' 'follower" per se of Allen Ginsberg, Marshall 
McLuhan, Norman O. Brown, or Leslie Fiedler. But those radical 
thinkers broke through the conventions of tradition and allowed us 
of the Sixties to find our own voices. That is what I would like to do 
for the students of the Nineties. 

We need a general theory of culture. Without it, multicultur- 
alism is nonsense. My synoptic work, taking in the full spectrum 
from high art to popular culture, was inspired by German philology, 
which I encountered via my childhood passion for archaeology. The 
great Schools of Oriental Studies — now routinely defamed as racist 
and imperialist by puerile New Historicists and others — were pos- 
ited on the philological model. The latter represents a multilayered 
view of society, where everything, from trivia to treasure, counts. 
Religion, politics, law, language, literature, art, architecture, agri- 
culture, husbandry, medicine, commerce, courtship, food prepara- 
tion, domestic management: the analyst of culture must be able to 
range freely among all the elements of ordinary and extraordinary 
life. The story is in the details, scattered fragments into which the 
scholar breathes life. 

My program of educational reform begins on the primary-school 
level, which has been irresponsibly ignored by our academic pseudo- 
leftists, whose idea of political action is nattering about Foucault to 
each other at conferences. Urban public schools have been allowed 
to decline disastrously since my mother emigrated from Italy in the 
Thirties and since I was rigorously educated in the Fifties and early 
Sixties. I favor a simple, back-to-basics curriculum centered on world 
history, science, and the arts, and I call for a return to the strict 



immigrant-era policy of expulsion of disorderly students, to protect 
the classroom for economically disadvantaged children who want to 
learn. Education is the foundation stone of true social justice. 

National standards, like those of the New York State Regents 
exams that ruled my youth, are necessary, but administrative bu- 
reaucracies must be reduced and teachers given more power. I view 
bilingual instruction as shortsighted and counterproductive, and I 
oppose all social-welfare meddling in public education: condom dis- 
tribution belongs in public health clinics, not schools, and forcing 
gay issues into the curriculum is an outrageous act of cultural im- 
perialism by white middle-class ideologues against the working class 
for whom they claim to speak. Deep social change takes time and 
cannot be achieved by fiat. Sex must be kept out of the totalitarian 
grip of philanthropists and preachers of every stripe. 

On the college level, reform has been stymied by two forces. 
First, a sterile liberal versus conservative debate has polarized the 
campuses and prevented authentic self-critique. These political po- 
sitions are simplistic and outmoded. We must take the best from 
the left and the best from the right to devise new strategies for the 
global twenty-first century. The reluctance of liberal professors to 
speak out against rampant abuses committed on their side (e.g., 
suppression of free speech, the excesses of women's studies and 
French theory) has simply increased the power of the right. 

Progressive values are damaged when the left has lost touch 
with reality and when the plain voice of common sense is heard 
mainly on the right. Conservative Christian organizations have made 
enormous gains in America because most of their issues are legiti- 
mate ones that have been misunderstood, misrepresented, or treated 
with sophomoric disrespect by what Dan Quayle correctly called 
the "cultural elite." The only way to slow or stop the national drift 
to the right is for intellectuals to reclaim these issues and method- 
ically recast them, one by one, in a new progressive language com- 
prehensible to middle America but divested of narrow Christian 
moralism. The people can and must be pulled back toward the 
center. Civil liberties, as the Sixties understood them, are at stake. 

The process of curricular reform has been complicated by the 
insularity of humanities faculty, most of whom seem naively obliv- 
ious to the political complexities and inner turbulence of contem- 


x i x 

porary America. The second force frustrating reform is the academic 
career system, which has gotten tangled up with politics, since am- 
bitious, apolitical literature teachers discovered in the Seventies and 
Eighties that easily learned leftist posturing brought professional 
prestige and advancement. The politics of these vinyl carpetbaggers 
consist mainly of empty rhetoric — and of currying favor with other 

Economic analysis is the first principle of Marxism. Profes- 
sors who were genuine leftists would have challenged the entire 
economics-driven machinery of American academe — the wasteful 
multidepartmental structure, the divisive pedantry of overspeciali- 
zation, the cronyism and sycophancy in recruitment and promotion, 
the boondoggling ostentation of pointless conferences, the exploi- 
tation of graduate students and part-time teachers, the subservience 
of faculty to overpaid administrators, the mediocrity and folly of the 
ruling cliques of the Modern Language Association. 

The failure of academe to reform itself from within was com- 
pounded by the negligence and inertness of what used to be called 
the "alternative press," which in the political correctness debate 
astonishingly aligned itself with the tenured professors of the elite 
schools. For example, The Village Voice, which I read devoutly in the 
Sixties and early Seventies, had so collapsed into confusion and 
irrelevance that its derisive 1991 cover story denying the existence 
of political correctness (and picturing me as a "counterfeit feminist" 
bandit "Wanted for Intellectual Fraud") was quickly accepted for 
republication by the Yale Journal of Criticism. Something is wrong in 
the culture when there is such collusion between the establishment 
and the old forces of critique. For twenty years, the alternative press, 
nationwide, has been irresponsibly mute about the venal careerism 
of academe, which drove my generation into the wilderness. 

Most professors know that American higher education in the 
humanities is in a deplorable state. Yet many remain silent, perhaps 
through prudent self-preservation, which is starting to look a lot like 
moral cowardice. They have put loyalty to their colleagues before 
loyalty to their students, ostensibly the raison d'etre for educational 
institutions. How many more young minds must be distorted or 
destroyed before the faculty decides to defend the Western intellec- 
tual values of free inquiry and orderly acquisition of knowledge? 



Only the West produced the scientific techniques and speculative 
analysis of geology, paleontology, and archaeology, which have re- 
vealed and preserved the world past. 

I end my public lectures with a mantra for the students: "Hate 
dogma. Love learning. Love art." What sorry pass have we come 
to when such sentiments are judged dangerously radical? Learning, 
not facile theory, must be the primary criterion (with teaching ability 
second) for the hiring and promotion of faculty. The new interdis- 
ciplinary era, which I support, requires an even deeper commitment 
to learning than before, but standards have actually weakened. The 
venerable emeritus professors still at Yale when I entered graduate 
school may have been reserved, puritanical WASPs, but they were 
men of honor who had given their lives to scholarship. Today in the 
elite schools, honor and ethics are gone. 

My aim is to build a coalition for educational reform consisting 
of concerned persons across the political spectrum. The supreme 
principles of free thought and free speech transcend all party affil- 
iations. I think I am alone in proposing a plan for world education. 
International understanding must have some basis in common ter- 
minology, which can best be articulated through traditional means, 
the solid scholarship of a revamped old historicism. We need a plan 
that is simultaneously a great expansion and a great simplification — 
that is, a moving outward to take in the vastness of global multi- 
culturalism and a reordering, by severe process of elimination, of 
the organizing themes for that huge body of material. 

My program offers comparative religion as a core curriculum 
for the world. I do not believe in God, but I believe God is man's 
greatest idea. Those incapable of religious feeling or those (like hard- 
core gay activists) who profane sacred ground do not have the imag- 
ination to educate the young. Flicking the radio dial in America, 
one hears bursts of beautiful, spellbinding poetry. But it is neither 
academics nor contemporary writers who are filling the air with 
dazzling imagery and profound spiritual truths. Alas for progressive 
politics, these are the voices of white and black Christian ministers, 
reading from the Bible. Why have intellectuals abandoned the peo- 
ple? This is the shame of modernism. High Romanticism at least 
gave poetry as the prize of rebellion and, turning from God, put 
nature in his place. 



Everyone in the world should know all the great religions of the 
world: Hinduism; Buddhism; Greco-Roman and Near Eastern pa- 
ganism; Judeo-Christianity; Islam; African, North American, and 
Oceanic tribal cults; pre-Columbian imperial myth. Art, history, 
and philosophy are intertwined with the evolution of religion. This 
is the true multiculturalism. The secularism of the Enlightenment 
was meant to free the mind, not kill the soul. In the spirit of the 
eighteenth-century encyclopedists and revolutionaries, we must keep 
church and state separate, even while we preserve the eternal insights 
and metaphors of religion. Authority belongs to the classroom, not 
the pulpit. 

Until the left comes to its senses about the cultural power of 
religion, the right will continue to broaden its appeal. The Sixties 
wanted to break the oppressive moral codes of organized religion, 
to attain vision by a daring individualism. But we left the generations 
who came after us in a spiritual vacuum. The young are struggling 
for identity in a world defined by material uncertainties and ineq- 
uities, surreally juxtaposed pockets of feast and famine. Hence their 
vulnerability to political correctness, the only religion they know. 
They crave spiritual food, and the elite schools have given them the 
bitter ashes of nihilism. Everything inspiring or ennobling has been 
befouled for them by their crabbed, callous professors, who do not 
deserve the name "teacher." My efforts to restore the unfashionable 
concept of "greatness" to critical discourse are part of my evangelical 
mission in the service of the Hellenic religion of art, whose homo- 
erotic prophets have risen again and again since the Renaissance. 

My plan is a fusion of archaism and futurism. Much of the 
acrimony of academic debate has come from a misapplication of the 
Sixties' demand for "relevance." Universities should not be brokers 
of the contemporary. The purpose of education is to open the remote 
past to the students, so that they can learn from the voluminous 
human record of mistakes and triumphs. Professors have no business 
telling students about the present. The students are the present, and 
month by month, they are creating the future. Stop oppressing them 
with exhausted paradigms of the recent past. Each time a professor 
sets foot in the classroom, he or she is already history. 

The "vamping" style that I endorse weaves references to the 
present throughout all interpretation of the past. Every teacher must 



become a bard, a living archive and singer of sagas. "Only connect," 
said E.M. Forstcr. Education must center on primary texts, the 
major artworks so complex and elusive that they have haunted gen- 
eration after generation. None of us understands them fully. We 
must present them to the students, then get out of the way. Great 
art radiates — an uncanny aura beyond good or evil. We literally 
"expose" ourselves to it, never knowing its deepest effects until years 
or decades later. 

On the Moebius strip of the human psyche, the future meets 
the past. I recognize the austere elegance and gravity of ancient 
Egyptian ritualism in Star Trek: The Next Generation, a television series 
(1987-94) that speaks to the universalist longings of the post-Sixties 
era. Technology has become like a second skin. The heroic spirit of 
maligned Columbus still pushes into space, Star Trek's "final fron- 
tier." Its plot lines wavering between cooperation and militance, the 
program recapitulates the Oresteia's contest between law and law- 
lessness, civilization and barbarism. And Star Trek accepts, without 
paternalistic sentimentality, the grotesque differentness of peoples, 
even their mutual physical repulsiveness. 

The current multicultural metaphor of the "rainbow" is com- 
pletely wrong. Cultures will never coexist in placid, symmetrical 
bands. There is no way, for example, that the opulent African aes- 
thetic of luxurious textures and brilliant colors, produced by the 
tropical sun, can ever fully comprehend or be comprehended by the 
sensuality-suppressing corporate WASP aesthetic of clean-lined "un- 
derstated" designs and "tasteful" muted tones — beige, bone, char- 
coal, navy. One cancels out the other. Conflict is unavoidable. 

My master metaphor for culture is the river, with its nourishing 
tributaries and churning cataracts. It conveys the real majesty of 
the world's historical traditions. Art comes cascading down to us 
from shadowy origins, like the allegorical Nile whose head is mys- 
teriously wrapped in Bernini's Piazza Navona fountain. Not critics 
but artists make the canon, which is simply the long stream of 
influences that create and sustain a civilization. 

We must construct a curriculum that balances the arts and 
sciences in a simple, rational way. I have written and spoken ex- 
tensively about the need to demolish women's studies, a corrupt 



autocracy that was flung together without regard for scholarly stan- 
dards or objective criteria of professional credentialing. Gay studies 
is even worse — a cul-de-sac microfield that guarantees bias and self- 
interest. My proposed substitute, sex studies, would put men and 
women, as well as gay and straight, into the same program, and it 
would make basic study of biology, endocrinology, psychology, and 
anthropology requirements for anyone claiming expertise in gender 
issues or seeking employment in that area as a college instructor. 

Teaching of the arts also needs reform, to remove every trace 
of desiccated academicism — bibliographic, semiotic, or poststruc- 
turalist. The visual and performing arts must be liberated from the 
tyranny of words, the stock-in-trade of a snooty literary establish- 
ment whose superannuated worldview predates that of our colorful, 
image-dominated age of television. History of the international lan- 
guages of music and dance should be built into the liberal arts core 
curriculum. It is disgraceful, for example, that jazz is more honored 
abroad than in its birthplace. Black music, in its half-dozen major 
phases, belongs at the heart of education for all young Americans. 

The media so shapes our world that a survey course in its long 
development is indispensable, from the first mass-market newspa- 
pers in the 1830s through the birth of advertising and the invention 
of movies, radio, and television. Art films are a superb educational 
tool to introduce students to foreign languages as well as to dramatize 
the fleeting ambiguities and hypnotic compulsions of sexuality. Cin- 
ema is far more accurate about sex than is feminist theory. Public 
funds should be used not to support individual artists — no genuinely 
avant-garde artist would take money from the government — but to 
underwrite dance companies, musical groups, and a national film 
consortium, designated to produce and protect mint-condition prints 
of great films for constant circulation among primary and secondary 
schools. If we fail to take action to sophisticate our students, the 
intellectual and artistic creativity of America will suffer. 

All the pieces in Vamps and Tramps were written in the two 
years since the release of Sex, Art, and American Culture. Many have 
been previously published in England and America, but the fol- 
lowing were specially written for this volume: the main essay, 



"No Law in the Arena," "The Saint," "Tournament of Modern Per- 
sonae" (on D.H. Lawrence), "Sontag, Bloody Sontag," and "My 
Brothers in Crime," a memoir of four gay men who have heavily 
influenced me. 

This is a multimedia book, in the Sixties style of Marshall 
McLuhan. Included are transcripts of several of the television and 
film projects I have recently participated in. I feel most fortunate 
to have an ongoing professional relationship with the brilliant 
producer-director Peter Stuart, whose staff and crew at Rapido TV 
in London have created four specials that I hosted on Channel 4, 
thanks to arts editor Waldemar Januszczak, over the past year and 
a half. Two of them, The Penis Unsheathed and Lolita Unclothed, are in 
this book. Censorship is such in America, on both the left and right 
wings, that neither program could have been made for mainstream 
television here. Transcripts of the two remaining shows, Diana Un- 
clothed (which caused a press flap) and Lesbians Unclothed, were not 
included for reasons of space. 

Other transcripts, in order of their film production: "Dr. Pag- 
lia," from Female Misbehavior, directed by Monika Treut and featur- 
ing Bruce Benderson; Sex War, directed by Luca Babini and starring 
Lauren Hutton; and Glennda and Camille Do Downtown, a video col- 
laboration with New York drag queen and public-access television 
personality and producer Glennda Orgasm (Glenn Belverio). The 
Hutton film has not yet been publicly shown, but Female Misbehavior 
has appeared at film festivals and in commercial release around the 
world and is distributed in video by First Run Features. Glennda and 
Camille, despite being shown at the prestigious Sundance Festival in 
January 1994, was banned for reasons of political incorrectness this 
past spring by both the New York and San Francisco Lesbian and 
Gay Film Festivals. [Note: As this book went to press, Glennda and 
Camille won first prize for the best short documentary at the 1994 
Chicago Underground Film Festival.] 

Other pieces in the book deal with censorship, academic reform, 
and the Stalinism of the feminist and gay-activist establishment. 
There are articles on Diana and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, as 
well as on the Clintons (including a 1993 London cover story on 
Hillary). Popular culture figures profiled include Judy Garland, 
Woody Allen, Amy Fisher, Sandra Bernhard, Madonna, and Barbra 



Streisand (another 1993 London cover story). Literary and artistic 
subjects, aside from D.H. Lawrence and Susan Sontag, include 
Lewis Carroll, Bizet's Carmen, Kenneth Clark's The Nude, an article 
on love poetry from the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and 
a manifesto of Neo-Sexism, the pro-art project I cofounded with 
artist and curator Alison Maddex. Among books reviewed are those 
by Germaine Greer, Edward Said, and Warren Farrell. Previously 
published pieces have usually been retitled, and all material dropped 
for space at deadline editing has been restored. 

"Satires and Short Takes" includes heterogeneous extracts and 
snippets, as well as the advice columns I wrote for Spy, which came 
to an end when commissioning editor Jamie Malanowski left the 
magazine. Scores of cartoons about me have appeared since my last 
book; some are reproduced here. They illustrate the degree to which 
I have become a sexual persona, apart from my ideas, at a moment 
when both feminism and academe are in flux. I seem to have passed 
into Pop Art, one of the formative influences of my college years. 
Last is a condensed media chronicle of my major appearances, as 
both subject and vamping commentator, in international newspapers 
and magazines. 

I would like to thank my patient and supportive editor, LuAnn 
Walther, and my ace publicist and loyal advisor, Katharine Barrett, 
at Vintage Books. Luca Babini, artist and athlete, has been extraor- 
dinarily generous in taking portrait photographs of me for this book. 
Five people were directly involved, in different ways, with the pro- 
duction of the manuscript: Kent Christensen, Nina Lucas, Stephen 
Wolf, Bruce Benderson, and my partner, Alison Maddex. During 
the writing of the book, I benefited from conversations with the 
following people, in alphabetical order: Glenn Belverio, Robert 
Caserio, John DeWitt, Herbert Golder, Lauren Hutton, Ann Jami- 
son, Stephen Jarratt, Elizabeth Kaspar Aldrich, Kristen Lippin- 
cott, M.G. Lord, Kenneth Manning, Harvey Mansfield, Rosemary 
Mayer, Lynn Nesbit, Lenora Paglia, Marilyn Roberts, Gillian Rose, 
Camelia Sanes, Heidi Jon Schmidt, Christina Hoff Sommers, Fran- 
cesca Stanfill, Sarah Such, David Talbot, Monika Treut, Helen and 
Gregory Vermeychuk, Lydia Wills, and Ben and Rachel Wizner. 

Camille Paglia 
Philadelphia, June 1994 



After hours at a museum gallery of Greek and Roman sculpture. Next to a 
stately entryway of Doric pillars, we see a marble copy of Polycleitus' Dia- 
doumenos, a nude athlete tying on his headband. The camera pans down his 
body, from face to penis. To the brassy beat of Yma Sumac's (C Goomba 
Boomba, " a charwoman with mop and pail sashays through the gallery and 
flicks the statue's genitals with three flourishes of her orange dust rag. Cut to 
stage set adorned with racks of church candles and a red carpet leading to an 
altar-like platform, above which hangs a neon-bright Pop Art painting of the 
abdomen and thighs of Michelangelo's David. The background of the image 
is iridescent orange, the skin cobalt blue, the pubic hair green, and the penis 
hot-pink. CAMILLE PAGLIAj in black jacket and pants, strolls out from the 
shadow of a church window, steps up on the platform, and addresses the camera. 

CAMILLE PAGLIA (imitating Nancy Kulp as schoolmarmish Miss fane on 
The Beverly Hillbillies): The penis. Should we keep it? Or 
should we cut it off and throw it away? In the thirty years since 
the sexual revolution, we have thought obsessively about sex 
but come to no answers to any important sexual question. The 

[A Rapido TV production for World Without Walls, Channel 4, London. Pro- 
duced by Peter Stuart. Directed by Peter Murphy. Aired March 1, 1994.] 



penis is shaping up to be the central metaphor of the gender 
crisis of the Nineties. ( Cut to black-and-white art photograph of a nude 
man holding a photo of the genitals of Michelangelo's David over his 
own.) In too much feminist thought of the last several decades, 
the penis has been defined as an instrument of intimidation, 
aggression, violation, and destruction. I think we've gotten to 
the point where this kind of reductive definition of male anatomy 
is proving unsatisfactory to women of the Nineties. It would be 
useful for us to go backwards in time and to review the way the 
penis has been symbolized through history. 

( Cut to prehistoric and classical depictions of men, penises, and dildos, including 
Greek vases and the monumental penis-on-a-pillar in the sacred precinct at 
Delos. Cut to art historian PETER WEBB, seated against a black background 
with a spotlit statue of a nude Greek boy behind him.) 

PETER WEBB: The phallus has had a very positive image, a very 
positive power in history and in prehistory, as far back as we 
go. And this has not in any way been demonstrably anti-women. 
But it has been pro. It's been pro-fertility. It's been a sort of 
talismanic image, an image to bring fertility, an image to assure 
good luck, an image to ward off the evil eye. And in this way, 
it's had a strong role to play in all sorts of cultures that we can 
examine in history. Really, from prehistoric times right through. 
But I suppose the most interesting to evaluate is the world of 
Greece and Rome, where it's quite clear that the phallus played 
a vital role in worship. 

(Cut to a reconstruction oj a priapic dance , circa 300 A. D. } from Derek Jarman's 
Sebastiane. Ecstatically leaping acolytes with large phallic prostheses circle 
a writhing bald man in white body paint and red G-string, who obscenely laps 
his reddened tongue. Back to Paglia on the set.) 

PAGLIA: The Greeks had a rather comical little god named Priapus, 
who stood for phallic erection. There was a priapic element to 
the behavior of Aristophanes' comic actors on stage, some of 
whom had enormous leather penises attached to their bodies, 
with which they would hit each other (she demonstrates) and buffet 
each other about. It's very similar to the "slapstick" of corn- 
media dell'arte and, later, vaudeville. 


( Cut to more Greek vases and then the wild dance again. Cut to art critic Jack 
Fritscher, sitting in a park near a monumental fountain.) 

JACK FRITSCHER: In art history, it's very difficult to find a favorite 
penis without going back to ancient times, where there are very 
frankly portrayed beautiful penises. We get into this period of 
Western culture where there's a terrible fear of penises. They're 
not allowed to be, I think, big, above a larger size than small. 
They just don't become the man, and as a result, they don't 
have a lot of appeal. 

(The camera zooms in on the tiny penises of statues of a discus-thrower and a 
warrior with his shield. Return of the Latin beat.) 

PAGLIA (on set): The Greeks gave their statues the genitals of small 
boy's. We have only recently found out what the reasons for this 
might be. It is that the classical Athenians regarded the large 
penis as a symbol of animality, of one's bestial instinct having 
primacy over the mind. Therefore, it was an exact reversal of 
modern days, where a large penis is prized. 

( Cut to covers and advertisements from pornography magazines with headlines 
like Massive Meat and Big Men on Campus. Fade-in to a muscular 
Archaic Greek kouros figure. Back to Peter Webb.) 

WEBB: I don't personally think they were deliberately made tiny. I 
think that we tend to think that because phalluses are large in 
the religious sphere, they look much smaller on human beings. 
I don't think there was a specific desire to make them tiny. Some 
people say that Michelangelo deliberately made the penises tiny 
in the Sistine Chapel. Personally, I don't think that that was 
deliberate, though, on his part. (Cut to penis-to-face pan of Mi- 
chelangelo 's Adam, accompanied by Gregorian chant of the Kyrie Eleison.) 
I think that he just saw that the human body was a perfect 
whole and he wanted to make it beautiful without drawing 
attention in particular to the sexual aspect. 

(Cut to Michelangelo's Sistine fresco of the serpent's temptation of Eve and 
the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Cut to shots of 
various Sistine ignudi.J 



PAG LI A (on set): Perhaps the best example in Michelangelo of the 
disparity between the little boy's private parts and the bulky 
bravvniness of the adult body would be the ignudi of the Sistine 
Chapel ceiling, the nude youths, where you have such a contrast 
between the beefiness of the torso and these tiny little genitals 
that have always reminded me of my grandmother's gnocchi, tiny 
little pasta pieces made out of potatoes. (Mandolin music. Cut to 
bowl of fat, white gnocchi, which dissolve into an ignudo'j penis.) 

There is a tradition in Renaissance art of depicting the gen- 
itals either of the baby Jesus exposed, in ritual display, or of 
those of the dead Christ, bulging through the fabric of his loin- 
cloth, that seems very shocking to us in modern times. (Cut to 
paintings of the passion and entombment of Christ.) There is a sym- 
bolism here that Christ was incarnated. He was the Son of God, 
but he was put into mortal flesh and experienced, presumably, 
all of the impulses and temptations that we too are subject to. 

(Cut to MARGARET WALTERS, author 0/The Nude Male. She is seated 
in an artist's studio , filled with drawings of the male nude.) 

MARGARET WALTERS: The baby Christ often has a very obvious 
penis. Sometimes he is touching it; sometimes Mary is pointing 
to it. ( Cut to painting of Madonna and child. Mary seems to be gazing 
down at her son's penis.) It's always visible. In some sense, a center, 
a proof of Christ's humanity as well as his godliness. But also 
in dead Christs — I mean, Mantegna's dead Christ, with its 
extraordinary foreshortening of the body — the loincloth actually 
emphasizes the bulge of his penis, and it's done very reverently. 
(Cut to the Mantegna painting.) This is an important point about 
humanity and godhead. 

( Cut to an art class , where male and female students are sketching a 
nude male model with his arms over a pole resting, lancelike, across his 
upper back. The camera pans over several charcoal renderings of the penis.) 
The male nude has always been central to artistic training, 
because it was such a central image in figurative art. It kept 
that centrality until we moved into the mid-nineteenth century 
and the twentieth century, when figurative art was no longer so 
crucial. It's also interesting that the male nude was not available 
for women artists to study. They were absolutely excluded. It 



was an absurd situation. And the great American painter 
Thomas Eakins lost his job teaching in Philadelphia when he 
removed the loincloth from a male model — this is in the late 
nineteenth century! — interestingly, probably because some of 
his women students complained. They were at that stage gen- 
uinely shocked by this. It seemed to be sexual rather than ar- 

(Cut to SARAH KENT, art critic and author o/Women's Images of Men. 
She is standing in front of a display of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs.) 

SARAH KENT: Women have only very recently begun to make images 
of the male nude, and they're doing a lot of things that men 
find problematic. For instance, making fun of them or else show- 
ing them as vulnerable, soft and passive, in a way that appeals 
to them but in a way that men find very problematic. 

(Cut to excerpts from a film, Dick: Women's Views on the Penis. A 
question appears on screen: (( What do they look like?" A series of American 
and British female voices is heard over a montage of black-and-white close-up 
photos of real-life penises. The women's tones vary, from affectionate to bitterly 

It's kind of like a vacuum-cleaner hose or something (laughs). 
It's such a (baby talk) cute little thingl 
I think it looks sort of bald. 
Kind of heart-shaped. 

Almost like a duck-billed platypus, I suppose. 

A cluster of bananas. 

It looked like a tea kettle. 

A butt. 

I always thought it looked like a belly button. 
A little bit like a skinned chicken neck. 
They're like young asparaguses! 



PAGLIA: Throughout history, respectable women were expected to 
keep a modest gaze. That is, not stare, to keep their eyes cast 
downward. A woman with a very hard or what was called "free" 
gaze was always considered a prostitute. So here we are at the 
end of the twentieth century now, and respectable, middle-class 
women are — through the tutelage of modern commercial pho- 
tography — being taught how to take pleasure in looking. Now, 
I think that this is a true revolution, and it is the end of that 
feminist idea of the "male gaze," which says that men stare 
aggressively and turn women into sex objects, because now we're 
in a period when it is permissible for women to make men into 
sex objects. 

( Cut to the "Women Photograph Men Workshop, 33 a photography course de- 
signed for women to study the male nude, offered by Exposures Gallery in 
London. Three young women giggle and sheepishly exchange glances as, cameras 
held aloft, they kneel in front of or lie below the nude model 3 s penis and buttocks. 
The gung-ho female instructor, like a summer-camp counselor, cheerfully exhorts 
them onward.) 

INSTRUCTOR (motioning with her arms): Move in closer! 

SARAH KENT: A lot of supposedly erotic male nudes are very funny 
because there's such hysteria in the image, you know, there's this 
terrible sense of, "Oh, my God! We've got to try to build up 
the mythology of this creature!" And it doesn't work because 
it's ludicrously inflated, in every sense of the word. It's incredibly 
difficult to look at an image of the penis for lots and lots of 
different reasons for men and for women. The man will probably 
have to identify with that subject and feel very uncomfortable, 
feel very vulnerable because he's been stripped of his accoutre- 
ments. He's been stripped of his covering. 

(Cut to male and female visitors 3 bemused faces at "True Phallacy: The Myth 
of Male Power, 33 America's first group art show since the Sixties devoted to 
imagery of the penis. On view from December 10, 1993, to fanuary 19, 1994, 
at Clark & Company gallery, Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Among the 
works visible are Jeffrey Barron's Race Relations (black and white plastic 
dildos encased, mummylike, in velvet boxes), Groover Cleveland's Ce n'est 
pas un penis, Reuven Kupperman's nude, cross-legged Self-portrait, a paint- 



ingfrom Joe Kaminski's Dick Series (a gigantic swollen penis with a cock 
ring), and Nuki's Untitled (a penis head peeking out of a matador costume). 
Cut to artist JOSE VILLARRUBIA, standing in front of his Minotaur, a 
ritualistically frontal photograph of a nude black man who is wearing a silver 
bull mask and whose large penis has been painted silver.) 

JOSE VILLARRUBIA: The penis is a tremendous, tremendous taboo. 
People think that they're going to burn in hell if they see one. 
You never see it on television or in the media. And it's restricted 
only to pornography — and (laughs) fine art. 

( Cut to ALISON MADDEX, curator ofTrut Phallacy. She is serenely seated 
behind a table covered with 60 shiny, gun-metal-gray erect penises pointing at 
different angles toward the ceiling. It is Jim Fotile's Die Tannenwald: Self- 
portrait. The artist plaster-casted his own penis and coated the images with 
metallic paint.) 

ALISON MADDEX: Artists can deal with it. In a situation like this 
penis "forest" here, where these take on figurative kind of char- 
acters. Even more so than trees, I would say they're people some- 
how — kind of (laughs and gestures like a hiker plowing through 
underbrush) making our way through the dicks of the world! 

( Cut to a chic blonde woman at True Phallacy, viewing the penis "forest. " 
As the crowd looks on, she dramatically points out her favorite.) 

WOMAN VISITOR: I'll take that one! (laughs uproariously with her female 

( Cut back to England.) 

SARAH KENT: If we come to the female viewer, what's she doing when 
she looks at the penis? Well, she's probably embarrassed, to 
start with. She looks at this little piece of flesh, and she thinks, 
"That's no use to me. What can I do with that? Nothing!" So 
this man is of no use to her in any metaphoric or literal way. 
Of course, the main problem is that it's illegal to show an erec- 
tion. An erect penis is a very handsome object, / maintain, a 
very beautiful object, as people like Robert Mapplethorpe have 
proved. You know, he has shown some wonderful male nudes with 
semi-erect penises. And in pornography magazines the men usu- 


ally have slightly massaged members, so that they appear to be 
a bit erect, which helps a lot, because then you're getting nearer 
to something that could actually be meaningful and useful and 
could embody power. 

(Cut to HELEN WILLIAMS, editor of For Women magazine, who peers 
through a magnifying glass at a proof sheet of color photos of a long-haired, 
nude, heavily tanned and oiled hunk impishly kneeling with a metal baseball 
bat. Montage of For Women covers. Headlines on a Patrick Swayze cover: 
"I imagine my cock is encased in an icicle 33 ; "Is it love or lust? and how to 
tell the difference 33 ; "Group Sex 33 ; "Miss Whiplash and the cabinet minister. 33 
Headlines on a Matt Dillon cover: "Is your clitoris V" long? 33 ; "Women who 
sleep with strangers night after night. 33 ) 

HELEN WILLIAMS: Women definitely do want to see an erection. We 
get a lot of letters from women saying, you know, "Love the 
magazine, but how come there aren't any erections?" Because 
it doesn't make any sense to have kind of sexy shots of men 
without an erection. Because the guidelines are so woolly about 
what actually constitutes an erection. I mean, there is no angle 
or degree that we're given. The law is very vague on this. You 
know, we've tried kind of seeing how far we can go and what 
the censors consider an erection. And basically, we've finally 
decided that a penis that is kind of self-supporting, or free- 
standing in any way, if it's not leaning on something or 
just . . . hanging, then we get into problems. And especially it 
mustn't be pointing at you! 

(Flash of the baseball boy 3 s cock. Then back to PAGLIA on set, her head next 
to Davids hot-pink penis.) 

PAGLIA: For me, the erect penis is the ultimate symbol of human 
sexual desire, because only men can show sexual excitation ex- 
ternally. We never know whether women are truly sexually aroused 
or not. Their reproductive apparatus remains internal. There- 
fore, I think it is of crucial importance to feminism to put the 
penis back to stage center! 

( Cut to bronze figurine of dancing Greek satyr with a huge, curved erection.) 


JACK FRITSCHER: It seems ironic that here we're doing a show about 
the penis and we cannot show the erect penis. We can, however, 
show the penis that pees but not the penis that gives babies or 

(Cut to tourists crowded around the Mannekin-Pis, the seventeenth-century 
"pissing boy" fountain in Brussels. They leap back, laughing, as the spray 
hits them.) 

PAGLIA: The motif of the pissing boy that is so common on fountains 
in Europe seems very remarkable, because one can't imagine a 
female equivalent. A young girl pissing would not in any way 
be humorous or touching. Young boys are literally handling their 
tools from early on. (She demonstrates.) They have to learn how 
to, for example, aim. I have often said that this is one of the 
moments when young boys learn linearity, concentration, focus, 
projection. (Cut to rococo painting of a pastoral scene of nymphs and 
cherubs, two of whom are urinating into a brook.) Right from the start, 
man has the idea of building, of something which is building and 
falling, okay? The idea of something that goes both hard and 
soft, that he is not totally in control of. So I think that the phallic 
paradigm underlies a lot of male cultural achievement in ways 
that women too easily ridicule. 

(Cut to a panorama of Manhattan's skyline. The camera pulls back to reveal 
a pensive, nude young man leaning languidly against a wall on a roof, with 
the Empire State and Chrysler buildings in the distance. In the next photo, the 
same man, clad only in sneakers and athletic socks, lounges on a Hudson River 
pier, as he contemplates the World Trade Center towers.) 

SARAH KENT: You could argue that we live in a phallic environment. 
I mean, if you go to Manhattan, it's just one prick after another! 
The entire place is a kind of temple to the phallus. And of course, 
the power of the phallus, in terms of commerce and money. We 
see monuments everywhere that are basically large pricks: Cleo- 
patra's Needle, Nelson's Column. So we don't have actual pricks 
on display, but we have phallic objects on display. I can't imag- 
ine a woman building a building that was tower-blocked in 
shape. It's inconceivable. 


PAG LI A (on set): One of Freud's most controversial theories is that 
of penis envy. That is, that woman feels a mutilated being, feels 
that she is an incomplete man. This has always been disputed 
by feminists. And indeed, it's probably the number-one reason 
Freud was thrown out of the feminist movement twenty years 
ago. It still remains controversial. 

( Cut again to Dick: Women's Views on the Penis. The question 'Would 
you want one?" appears on screen. More black-and-white photos of penises 
flash by, while we hear women y s responses, some of them heavily ironic.) 

Where would I keep it? 

Maybe. Maybe if I had it in a little box — I mean, that I 
could take out and play with. But never connected to my body! 

It looks like you'd get a backache. I mean, God! No thanks! 

Besides, I've kicked enough guys in the dick, and seen the 
reaction that it gets, to not want that kind of pain. 

But I've always wished that I could sort of lease one and 
have it around whenever I need it. 

Like "Queen for a Day." I'd like to have a penis for a day. 

If I had a dick, I think I'd probably piss on everything and, 
uh, I'd wank a lot. 

I'd play with it by myself a lot. And I'd go around and stick 
it in as many women as I could, and I would just totally enjoy 
it all the time. 

paglia (as lofty Dame Edna Everage): I myself, though I would find 
a penis useful when courting women, would think of it on a day- 
to-day basis as being highly inconvenient, getting in the way, 
always being rubbed and therefore a constant problem/ 

OFFSCREEN VOICE (director PETER MURPHY,): But supposing you 
could have a penis just for a day, Camille. What would you do 
with it? 

PAGLIA: (Taken by surprise, goes blank for a moment. Then laughs, blushes, 
and shrugs.) You don't want me to answer that question! I 


would — (imitates Groucho Marx) go find Catherine Deneuve in a 

( Cut to film of annual Shinto fertility procession at Tagata Shrine in Japan. 
A boisterous team of men in traditional garb carry a giant blonde-wood phallus, 
the size of a tree trunk, on their shoulders through the village to the temple. 
Rows of women follow, cradling replicas like babies. A monk sprinkles coarse 
salt in the street. A young woman rings a penis-shaped bell. Businessmen rub 
the tip of a black stone phallus, for good luck. A woman bows and prays to 
an altar of phallic images.) 

JACK FRITSCHER: I'm not saying that you just worship the penis. 
It's just that we're talking about penis, and penis as being some- 
thing that hasn't been worshipped. Everybody's falling on their 
knees and worshipping vaginas — in a sense, worshipping fem- 
ininity. I mean, people just driven into groups because they want 
to get in touch with their feminine side. Well, hey! Get in touch 
with your masculine side. You need to get a grip on your dick! 
Hold on to it. Because if you don't, it will be turned into a 

(Cut to cover of People magazine: "The War of the Bobbitts: The Cut Felt 
Round the World. 33 Horror-movie music. Close-ups of Lorena and John Wayne 
Bobbitt in court and then the kitchen knife itself, placed in evidence.) 

PAGLIA (on set): I think that the subliminal castration anxiety that 
men have always had has suddenly erupted into the open with 
the case in 1993 of Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her husband's 
penis in the middle of the night. I think this is an event of major 
proportions in modern sexual history. I don't feel that most 
women want to support such an act of barbarism. But in some 
sense, Lorena Bobbitt has committed the ultimate revolutionary 
act of contemporary feminism. 

( Cut to footage of Lorena Bobbitt walking from her car into the courthouse. 
Cut to Court TV cable coverage.) 

ANCHORWOMAN: We turn now today to the trial of Lorena Bobbitt, 
accused, as most of the country now knows, of cutting off her 
husband's penis. After the opening statements in this case, which 
were quite brief by most standards, John Wayne Bobbitt himself 


was called to the stand as witness number one for the state. 
Here he describes what it was like when his wife attacked him. 

(Cut to courtroom footage.) 

JOHN WAYNE BOBBITT: And she just pulled up on my, you know, 
groin area. I mean . . . (His voice trails off.) 

STATE'S ATTORNEY: She did what? 

JOHN: She pulled on my groin area twice, I think. I felt a couple 
jerks and then I, I, I — After that she just, like, cut it off. 

( Cut to Lorena Bobbitt on the stand.) 

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And the next thing you remember is when you 
were driving to your friend Janice's house — 

LORENA BOBBITT (distraught): Yes. Yes. 

ATTORNEY: You were getting close to a stop sign — 

lorena: Yes. 

ATTORNEY: And you realized that there was something in your left 
hand — 

lorena: Yes. 

ATTORNEY: And you realized it was your husband's penis — 
LORENA (whimpering): Yes. 

ATTORNEY: And you were just horrified. Isn't that right? 
lorena: Yes. 

ATTORNEY: And you just wanted to get rid of it. Isn't that right? 

LORENA (sobbing but mysteriously dry-eyed): Yes, yes, yes. 

ATTORNEY: And you went and got rid of it. Just like that. Isn't that 

lorena: Yes, I throw it out! Yes! 
ATTORNEY: Just like that. 


LORENA: No, I don't remember how I threw it just like that. I know 
I just — I just want to get rid of it! 

(Lorena gropes for a handkerchief buries her face in it, and works herself up 
into wracking sobs.) 

JACK FRITSCHER: I think what we have is a society that's been so 
frightened by the penis, made frightened by a version of the 
woman's movement, not by feminism itself, but by an hysterical 
woman's movement that has so frightened people about the 
penis, that you have Lorena Bobbitt being applauded for chop- 
ping off the aptly named John Wayne Bobbitt's penis in his 
bedroom. (Cut to Lorena leaving the courthouse after her acquittal. She 
is clutching a huge white teddy bear. A turbaned African-American woman, 
balancing a box of long-stemmed red roses, leads her forcefully by the arm. 
There are deafening cheers and chants from the crowd: "Lorenal Lorena! 
Lorena!") If people think of the penis as an instrument of rape, 
then what message are they giving to their sons? What they're 
going to do is create a whole generation of men who are so afraid 
of their penis, they're not going to be able to use it for the 
procreation of the race. Because the self-esteem that people like 
to talk about is being taken away. 

SARAH KENT: Virility has taken some hard knocks recently. And 
men feel very frightened of their own sexuality, because their 
sexual urges seem to be politically incorrect, if you like. Women 
have begun to think of men as aggressors and predators rather 
than as companions. (Cut to photo of a nude youth in heroic profile, 
gazing up at the sun.) And I think we're now moving on to a new 
phase in which both men and women are beginning to say, well, 
you know, "We want sexually active men. We want sexual part- 
ners. But let's rethink what virility is. Let's rethink what it means 
for the woman." 

(Cut to photo of a nude young man cuddling a nude male infant. Then photos 
of penises juxtaposed with flowers, leaves, a mask, and donut-like baby's toys. 
Back to the opening pan of the Greek Diadoumenos, from head to penis.) 

PAGLIA: I have intensely disliked the tendency of many feminists to 
want men to be remade in a kind of shy, sensitive form — to 

1 6 


become, in essence, new kinds of women, contemporary eunuchs 
with a soft penis, which is less inconvenient to women. I think 
that this is not in the interests of the human race. We want a 
hard penis. We want masculine vigor. And I'm afraid that in order 
to get men macho again, we may have to endure a certain 
amount of instability in sexual relations. That is, there may have 
to be a kind of honorable truce between enemy camps. 

So what would be my advice to the sexes at the end of the 
century? (arms akimbo in fierce, campy drag queen mode) I would say 
to men: get it up! And to women I would say: deal with it! 

(Camera pulls in tight on David 's hot-pink penis. Back to Diadoumenos 
standing guard amid the white pillars at the museum. As Yma Sumac's Latin 
beat returns, the credits roll.) 



1. introduction: the horses of passion 

At the end of the Christian millennium and the century of Freud, 
sex is still shrouded in mystery. A question mark hangs over every 
important sexual issue. Despite bitter public controversy and heated 
private debate, we have no answers. Indeed, we have barely begun 
to formulate the questions accurately. 

Sex, I have argued in my prior books, is animality and artifice, 
a dynamic interplay of nature and culture. To study it, one must 
weigh the testimony of art and draw on all the scholarly resources 
of the social and natural sciences. In my opinion, the many schools 
of modern psychology, whose roots were in the late nineteenth cen- 
tury, reached their height in the eclectic 1960s, which fused widely 
diverse theories and practices, from Freudian verbal analysis to Rei- 
chian body manipulation. In that decade in America, Western sci- 
ence and Asian Hinduism momentarily came together, but the 
brilliant insights gained from this encounter were experienced by 
isolated individuals and dissipated into the general culture. The 
psychedelic Sixties left their imprint in images and music more than 
in books. 

For the last twenty-five years, sex theory has been in a state of 



chaos. Single-issue activism turned into fanaticism, on both the left 
and right. Understanding of eroticism has actually regressed, as 
ideology has become paramount. The major conceptual break- 
through of the Sixties was its Romantic movement back toward 
nature, the awesome, star-studded panorama dwarfing social con- 
ventions and forms. The Sixties flower-power view of nature had 
too much Rousscauist benevolence, but it was more right than 
wrong. Organicism is the true deconstruction. With the failure or 
reluctance of Sixties visionaries to enter the professions or main- 
stream politics, the Seventies suffered from an intellectual vacuum, 
which was filled by a narrow, blinkered social constructionism — the 
simplistic behaviorist belief that nature does not exist, that every- 
thing we are comes from social conditioning. 

Social constructionism was a crude distortion of the vast Sixties 
cosmic vision. It was promulgated for sectarian political purposes 
by three groups. First, the new Seventies breed of Stalinist feminist 
tried, in the abortion crusade, to wipe out all reference to nature 
or religion — a misconceived strategy that backfired and simply 
strengthened the pro-life opposition. Second, ambitious literature 
academics, ignorant of science, used esoteric, language-based, social 
constructionist French theory to advance their careers after the col- 
lapse of the academic job market in the Seventies recession. Third, 
gay activists, after the identification of AIDS in the early Eighties, 
used fascist tactics to stop public discussion of it in anything but 
political terms — as if disease occurred in people's prejudices rather 
than in the suffering body. 

But what AIDS shows us is nature itself, risen up with terrible 
force to mock our delusions of knowledge and control. AIDS, above 
all, forces nature back onto the agenda of sex theory. Unfortunately 
for the shallow ideology of current feminism and gay liberation, 
whose ultimate aims I support, this means that procreation must 
be dealt with much more fully and honestly than has yet been done. 
The avoidance of that issue by the left has simply ceded it to and 
helped the rise of the right, which frames the argument in moral or 
rather Judeo-Christian terms. 

For me, the ultimate power in the universe is nature, not God, 
whose existence I can understand only as depersonalized vital en- 
ergy. But as I have repeatedly said, merely because nature is supreme 



does not mean we must yield to it. I take the Late Romantic view 
that everything great in human history has been achieved in defiance 
of nature. Law, art, and technology are defense mechanisms, Apol- 
lonian lines drawn against the Dionysian turbulence of nature. Mel- 
ville's Captain Ahab, crippled and scarred, shaking his fist at the 
stormy heavens, symbolizes the rebellion of imagination against fate. 

There is a sex problem in the West because of Judeo- 
Christianity's ambivalence toward nature, the fallen realm of matter 
brought into being by a perfect transcendent deity. From its first 
book on, the Bible links sex to reproduction and condemns as per- 
verted all male sexual activities, such as sodomy or onanism, that 
are wasteful of semen. Recent claims by gay activists that there is 
no explicit prohibition of homosexuality in the Old Testament, or 
that it is simply one of many defunct ritual formulas, or that "God 
is love" (which applies primarily to the New Testament and only 
to agape and caritas, not eros), beg the question in a foolish and reckless 
manner. Procreation, not fear or bias, underlies the Christian op- 
position to homosexuality. 

Fundamentalist reading of the Bible is far from passe. On the 
contrary, religious faith, in particular evangelical Protestantism and 
Roman Catholicism, is spreading around the world. The goals and 
reputation of progressive politics have been harmed by the juvenile 
arrogance of the liberal establishment toward institutional religion, 
which may oppress by rules but which is also a repository of spiritual 
experience, as well as folk wisdom about life, far more truthful than 
anything in French poststructuralism. What I propose is an argu- 
ment based on another Western tradition, the Greco-Roman or 
pagan, which was equal to the Judeo-Christian in the formation of 
our culture. 

Feminists and gay activists must stop their self-destructive habit 
of jeering at the church and trying to twist it to their own purposes. 
We must concentrate instead on winning recognition of the pagan 
line as a countertradition whose major contributions have been sci- 
ence and art and whose philosophy of sexuality is both broader and 
subtler than the Judeo-Christian. It is to Athens and Rome that we 
also trace our political systems. The framers of American democracy 
were not conventional Christians but Enlightenment Deists who 
invoked a crosscultural "Creator." It is no coincidence that the 



principal monumental architecture of our national capital is pagan. 

Even in classical antiquity, homosexuality was controversial, 
and despite the exaggerated claims of today's partisans, there was 
no period or place where it flourished in complete freedom from 
moral opprobrium. However, the urban centers of the ancient Med- 
iterranean were magnets for prostitution, as well as male homosex- 
uality. Indeed, in my view, development of a sexual underworld may 
be intrinsic to urbanization as a worldwide phenomenon, a process 
that can be checked only by ruthless repression by church or state. 
There are remarkably similar patterns in erotic behavior, as identity 
overlaps identity in the intensified space and pace of cities. 

Whether rampant open homosexuality is or is not a symptom 
of social decadence remains one of the issues that must be fairly 
discussed, without hysterical charges of "homophobia/' in the new 
age of sex theory. I am ready to defend both homosexuality and 
decadence, since I look at history from the perspective of art, not 
morality. For me, civilization is art, and art is the highest record of 
humanity. One day, when we represent ourselves to inhabitants of 
distant galaxies, it will be by our art that we will want to be known. 
Therefore, anything that contributes to art must be nurtured and 
preserved. What seems irrefutable from my studies is that male 
homosexuality is intricately intertwined with art, for reasons we have 
yet to determine. 

The Greeks invented not only the major genres of literature 
and the disciplines of philosophy but organized athletics, in their 
mathematics-based track and field form. Dramatic competition is 
built into the agonistic plot structure of Greek tragedy as well as 
the oratorical Western mode of legal argumentation. I want to trans- 
fer that rhythmic choreography of opposition into sex theory. Late- 
twentieth-century America has more in common with imperial Rome 
than with classical Athens, and so it is to the Hellenized Roman 
world that I would look for pagan models. We need new living myths. 

The current discourse about sex is too genteel. Freud's severe, 
conflict-based system has lost popularity to a casual, sentimental 
style of user-friendly psychological counseling that I find typically 
Protestant, in the glad-handing Chamber of Commerce way. The 
operatic perversions of Krafft-Ebing and the unsettling daemonism 
of Ferenczi are completely gone. Yet sex war remains, and is likely 



to be our permanent condition. Competition and conflict are oper- 
ating at every level of even our cooperative ventures, at work or at 
home. Our dream life itself, as Freud has shown, is both power play 
and passion play. 

In war there can also be honor, the code of aristocratic chivalry, 
applied by medieval knights {chevaliers, "horsemen") to battlefield, 
court, and bedchamber. If women want freedom and equality, they 
must learn the rules of the game. The title of this essay comes from 
Ben-Hur (1959), the Hollywood epic that depicts the explosive tension 
in Judaea under Roman occupation. An Arab sheik persuades the 
vengeful prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) to race his ex- 
quisite white horses at Jerusalem by promising a head-to-head show- 
down with the evil Roman tribune, Messala (Stephen Boyd). The 
sheik says, "There is no law in the arena." 

Sex today occurs in the dust and clamor of the imperial circus. 
Private grievances are dragged into the glare of day and become 
meat for the masses. Plato's lofty metaphor of the charioteer, the 
soul subduing by cool rationality the horses of bestial passion, was 
brutally revised by Rome, with its grandiose gladiatorial spectacles. 
The chaste elegance of the contemplative Delphic Charioteer was 
inconceivable in the hurly-burly hippodromes of the Hellenistic 
Mediterranean. Under the empire, as we see from the sober writings 
of Marcus Aurelius, the philosophic ideal of Stoic detachment be- 
came a way to survive cultural instability. Then as now, there is no 
going back. Conservative paradigms deserve our respect but also 
our recognition that they are nostalgic longings for a simpler and 
irretrievable past. 

Sex in our age has become gladiatorial, with male and female, 
gay and straight whipping and goading each other for position. This 
is our lot. We must accept it and devise a simple new rule book and 
training regime that puts the combatants on equal footing. Neither 
women nor gays should plead for special protections or preferential 
treatment. The arena is the social realm, marked off from nature 
but ritually formalizing nature's aggressions. My libertarian position 
is that, in the absence of physical violence, sexual conduct cannot 
and must not be legislated from above, that all intrusion by authority 
figures into sex is totalitarian. 

The ultimate law of the sexual arena is personal responsibility 



and self-defense. We must be prepared to go it alone, without the 
infantilizing assurances of external supports like trauma counselors, 
grievance committees, and law courts. I say to women: get down in 
the dirt, in the realm of the senses. Fight for your territory, hour by 
hour. Take your blows like men. I exalt the pagan personae of athlete 
and warrior, who belong to shame rather than guilt culture and 
whose ethic is candor, discipline, vigilance, and valor. 

2. sex crime: rape 

The area where contemporary feminism has suffered the most 
self-inflicted damage is rape. What began as a useful sensitization 
of police officers, prosecutors, and judges to the claims of authentic 
rape victims turned into a hallucinatory overextension of the defi- 
nition of rape to cover every unpleasant or embarrassing sexual 
encounter. Rape became the crime of crimes, overshadowing all the 
wars, massacres, and disasters of world history. The feminist ob- 
session with rape as a symbol of male-female relations is irrational 
and delusional. From the perspective of the future, this period in 
America will look like a reign of mass psychosis, like that of the 
Salem witch trials. 

Rape cannot be understood in isolation from general criminol- 
ogy, which most feminists have not bothered to study. Psychopa- 
thology was an early interest of mine, partly because of my own 
aggressive and deviant impulses as a tomboy in the Fifties. Two 
comprehensive, analytic, and nonjudgmental books I acquired as a 
teenager gave me the intellectual framework for my later approaches 
to abnormal behavior: Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sex- 
ualis (1886) and Emile Durkheim's Suicide (1897). In college and 
graduate school, I gathered the material on rape, homosexuality, 
and other controversial themes that appears in Sexual Personae. By 
the time Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will appeared in 1975, I 
knew enough to find its interpretative framework seriously inade- 
quate. That book is one of many well-meaning feminist examples of 
the limitation of white middle-class assumptions in understanding 
extreme emotional states or acts. 

The philistinism of feminist discourse on rape in the Eighties 
and Nineties has been astonishing. My generation was well-educated 



in the Sixties in major literary texts that have since been margin- 
alized by blundering women's studies: our sense of criminality and 
the mystery of motivation came principally from Dostoyevsky's Crime 
and Punishment, Camus's The Stranger, and Genet's The Maids. There 
was also Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontil- 
lado," as well as eerie films like Fritz Lang's M, Alfred Hitchcock's 
Psycho, and Richard Fleischer's Compulsion (on the Leopold and Loeb 
case). The shrill feminist melodrama of male oppressor/ female vic- 
tim came straight out of nickelodeon strips of mustache-twirling 
villains and squealing maidens tied to train tracks. Those who revere 
and live with great art recognize Clytemnestra, Medea, Lady Mac- 
beth, and Hedda Gabler — conspirators and death-dealers of im- 
placable will — as equally the forebears of modern woman. 

Rape should more economically be defined as either stranger 
rape or the forcible intrusion of sex into a nonsexual context, such 
as a professional situation. However, even the latter is excusable if 
a sexual overture is welcomed, as can be the case in both gay and 
straight life. There is such a thing as seduction, and it needs en- 
couragement rather than discouragement in our puritanical Anglo- 
American world. The fantastic fetishism of rape by mainstream and 
anti-porn feminists has in the end trivialized rape, impugned wom- 
en's credibility, and reduced the sympathy we should feel for legit- 
imate victims of violent sexual assault. 

What I call Betty Crocker feminism — a naively optimistic Pol- 
lyannaish or Panglossian view of reality — is behind much of this. 
Even the most morbid of the rape ranters have a childlike faith in 
the perfectibility of the universe, which they see as blighted solely 
by nasty men. They simplistically project outward onto a mythical 
"patriarchy" their own inner conflicts and moral ambiguities. In 
Sexual Personae, I critiqued the sunny Rousseauism running through 
the last two hundred years of liberal thinking and offered the dark 
tradition of Sade, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud as more truthful 
about human perversity. It is more accurate to see primitive egotism 
and animality ever-simmering behind social controls — cruel energies 
contained and redirected for the greater good — than to predicate 
purity and innocence ravaged by corrupt society. Nor does the Fou- 
cault view of numb, shapeless sensoriums tyrannically impinged on 
by faceless systems of language-based power make any more sense, 



in view of daily news reports of concretely applied and concretely 
suffered random beatings, mutilations, murders, arson, massacres, 
and ethnic exterminations around the world. 

Rape will not be understood until we revive the old concept of 
the barbaric, the uncivilized. The grotesque cliche t< patriarchy ,> 
must go, or rather be returned to its proper original application to 
periods like Republican Rome or Victorian England. What feminists 
call patriarchy is simply civilization, an abstract system designed by 
men but augmented and now co-owned by women. Like a great 
temple, civilization is a gender-neutral structure that all should re- 
spect. Feminists who prate of patriarchy are self-exiled in grass huts. 

Ideas of civilization and barbarism have become unfashionable 
because of their political misuse in the nineteenth century. The West 
has neither a monopoly on civilization nor the right or obligation to 
impose its culture on others. Nor, as Sexual Personae argues, are any 
of us as individuals ever completely civilized. However, it is equally 
wrong to dismiss all progressive theories of history, which is not just 
scattered bits of data upon which we impose wishful narratives. 
Societies do in fact evolve in economic and political complexity. 

Even though we no longer wish to call one society "higher" or 
"more advanced" than another, it is unwise to equate tribal expe- 
rience, with its regimentation by tradition and its suppression of the 
individual by the group, with life under industrial capitalism, which 
has produced liberalism and feminism. Law and order, which protect 
women, children, and the ill and elderly, are a function of hierarchy, 
another of the big bad words of feminism. Law and order were 
achieved only a century ago in the American West, which still lives 
in our national mythology. Disintegration into banditry is always 
near at hand, as was shown in 1989 in the notorious case of the 
Central Park woman jogger — a savage attack significantly called 
"wilding" by its schoolboy perpetrators. Sex crime means back to 

When feminism rejected Freud twenty-five years ago, it edited 
out of its mental life the barbarities of the homicidal Oedipal psy- 
chodrama, which the annals of crime show is more than a metaphor. 
The irony is that Freud's master paradigm of "family romance," 
which structures our adult relationships in love and at work, has a 
special appropriateness to the current feminist debate. Too much of 



the date-rape and sexual harassment crisis claimed by white middle- 
class women is caused partly by their own mixed signals, which I 
have observed with increasing distress as a teacher for over two 

The predominant fact of modern sexual history is not patriarchy 
but the collapse of the old extended family into the nuclear family, 
an isolated unit that, in its present form, is claustrophobic and 
psychologically unstable. The nuclear family can work only in a 
pioneer situation, where the punishing physicality of farmwork keeps 
everyone occupied and spent from dawn to dusk. The middle-class 
nuclear family, where the parents are white-collar professionals who 
do brainwork, is seething with frustrations and tensions. Words are 
charged, and real authority lies elsewhere, in bosses on the job. 
Marooned in the suburbs or in barricaded urban apartments, up- 
wardly mobile families are frantically overscheduled and geograph- 
ically transient, with few ties to neighbors and little sustained contact 
with relatives. 

Two parents alone cannot transmit all the wisdom of life to a 
child. Clan elders — grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, un- 
cles, cousins — performed this function once. Today, poor inner-city 
or rural children are more likely to benefit from the old extended 
family or from the surrogate family of long-trusted neighbors, since 
working-class people are less likely to make repeated moves for job 
promotions. The urban child sees the harshness of the street; the 
rural child witnesses the frightening operations of nature. Both have 
contact with an eternal reality denied the suburban middle-class 
child, who is cushioned from risk and fear and who is expected to 
conform to a code of genteel good manners and repressed body 
language that has changed startlingly little since the Victorian era. 

The sex education of white middle-class girls is clearly deficient, 
since it produces young women unable to foresee trouble or to survive 
sexual misadventure or even raunchy language without crying to 
authority figures for help. A sense of privilege and entitlement, as 
well as ignorance of the dangers of life, has been institutionalized 
by American academe, with its summer-resort, give-the-paying-cus- 
tomers-what-they-want mentality. Europe has thus far been rela- 
tively impervious to the date-rape hysteria, since its tortured political 
history makes sugary social fantasies of the American kind less pos- 



sible. Fun-and-fabulous teenage dating is not high on the list of 
priorities for nations which, in the lifetime of half their population, 
had firsthand knowledge of war, devastation, and economic collapse. 
The media-fueled disproportion and distortion of the date-rape de- 
bate are partially attributable to American arrogance and parochi- 

White middle-class girls at the elite colleges and universities 
seem to want the world handed to them on a platter. They have 
been sheltered, coddled, and flattered. Having taught at a wide 
variety of institutions over my ill-starred career, I have observed 
that working-class or lower-middle-class girls, who are from finan- 
cially struggling families and who must take a patchwork of menial 
off-campus jobs to stay in school, are usually the least hospitable to 
feminist rhetoric. They see life as it is and have fewer illusions about 
sex. It is affluent, upper-middle-class students who most spout the 
party line — as if the grisly hyperemotionalism of feminist jargon 
satisfies their hunger for meaningful experience outside their event- 
less upbringing. In the absence of war, invent one. 

The real turmoil is going on inside the nuclear family, which, 
with its caged quarters and cheerful ethic of "togetherness," must 
generate invisible barriers to the threat of incest. Here is the real 
source of the epidemic eating disorders, blamed by incompetent 
feminist analysts on the media. Anorexia, for example, remains pri- 
marily a white middle-class phenomenon. The daughter stops her 
disturbing sexual maturation by stripping off her female contours, 
the hormone-triggered fleshiness of breasts, hips, and buttocks. She 
wants to remain a child, when her innocent erotic stratagems had 
no consequence. Again and again, among students as well as the 
date-rape heroines canonized on television talk shows, I have seen 
the flagrant hair-tossing and eye-batting mannerisms of Daddy's 
little girl, who since childhood has used flirtation and seductiveness 
to win attention within the family. 

Provocation and denial are built into the circuitry of the white 
middle-class girl, with her depressing flatness of sexual imagination, 
her strange combination of "low self-esteem" with hectoring moral 
superiority in groups, inflamed by feminist rhetoric. The eating dis- 
orders are symptomatic not of external forces or media conspiracies 
but of a major breakdown in the female sex role. In the Anglo- 



American world, the successful woman is now defined in exclusively 
professional terms. The role of mother, still central in Latin and 
Asian cultures, has been devalued. Feminism should be about op- 
tions. I myself have no talent for motherhood and have sought only 
a career. But I recognize that no role may be more important than 
bearing and raising children and that most men, whatever their 
contributions to the child's later development, are not and will never 
be proficient at infant care. 

Over the past forty years, there has been an increasingly long 
postponement of marriage and childbirth by middle-class women. 
For example, my parents married at twenty-one in 1946, a year 
before I was born. Today, it would be unheard-of for a girl at an 
elite school to marry at that age. Maternity is considered an accident, 
a misfortune, the vulgar prerogative of misguided working-class teen- 
agers. If a Yale sophomore were to drop out of school to marry, she 
would be treated as a traitor to her class, 44 throwing away" her 
expensive education, "wasting" her life. In the Sixties, by contrast, 
it was considered a radical gesture for a girl to disappoint her parents' 
expectations by leaving college and running off with her ragged 
hippie boyfriend to bake bread and have babies in a commune. 

Modern society is now structured so as to put a crippling im- 
pediment between women's physical development and their career 
ambitions. Feminist ideology began by claiming to give women free- 
dom, enlightenment, and self-determination, but it has ended by 
alienating professional women from their own bodies. Every signal 
from the body — like the sudden quiet inwardness and psychological 
reorientation of girls at puberty, when they mysteriously recede in 
classroom assertiveness — is automatically interpreted in terms of 
social oppression. Teachers are supposedly "discouraging" the girls; 
adjusting your behavior to attract a mate is dismissed as a voluntary 
or legitimate choice. Girls are taught the mechanics of reproduction 
and sexual intercourse as clinically as if they were learning to operate 
a car or computer. The repressed, sanitized style of the WASP man- 
agerial class now governs public discussion of sex. Anything dark 
or ambiguous is blamed on "ignorance," "superstition," or "lack of 

It was after my tumultuous lecture at Brown University in 
March 1992 that I saw this process of cultural repression most 



clearly. Taking questions at the reception, I sat with an African- 
American security guard as several hundred students seethed around 
me. Those who doubt the existence of political correctness have never 
seen the ruthless Red Guards in action, as I have done on campus 
after campus. For twenty years, meaningful debate of controversial 
issues of sex or race was silenced by overt or covert intimidation. 

As I watched a half-dozen pampered, white middle-class girls, 
their smooth, plump cheeks contorted with rage, shriek at me about 
rape, I had two thoughts. First, America is failing its young women; 
these are infantile personalities, emotionally and intellectually un- 
developed. Second, it's not rape they're screaming about. Rape is 
simply a symbol of the horrors and mysteries of the body, which 
their education never deals with or even acknowledges. It was a 
Blakean epiphany: I suddenly saw the fear and despair of the lost, 
stripped of old beliefs but with nothing solid to replace them. Fem- 
inism had constructed a spectral sexual hell that these girls inhab- 
ited; it was their entire cultural world, a godless new religion of fury 
and fanaticism. Two months later, as I sat in London, discoursing 
at length with poised, literate, witty Cambridge University women 
of the same age as those at Brown, I became even more indignant 
at the travesty of Ivy League education. 

Women are not in control of their bodies; nature is. Ancient 
mythology, with its sinister archetypes of vampire and Gorgon, is 
more accurate than feminism about the power and terror of female 
sexuality. Science is far from untangling women's intricate hormonal 
system, which is dauntingly intertwined with the emotions. Women 
live with unpredictability. Reproduction remains a monumental 
challenge to our understanding. The Eleusinian Mysteries, with their 
secret, torch-lit night rituals, represented woman's grandeur on the 
scale that she deserves. We must return to pagan truths. 

The elite schools, defining women students only as "future lead- 
ers," masters of the social realm, limit and stunt them. The mission 
of feminism is to seek the full political and legal equality of women 
with men. There should be no impediments to women's social ad- 
vance. But it is the first lesson of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judeo- 
Christianity that we are much greater than our social selves. I 
envision two spheres: one is social, the other sexual and emotional. 
Perhaps one-third of each sphere overlaps the other; this is the area 



where feminism has correctly said, "The personal is political." But 
there is vastly more to the human story. Man has traditionally ruled 
the social sphere; feminism tells him to move over and share his 
power. But woman rules the sexual and emotional sphere, and there 
she has no rival. Victim ideology, a caricature of social history, blocks 
women from recognition of their dominance in the deepest, most 
important realm. 

Ambitious young women today are taught to ignore or suppress 
every natural instinct, if it conflicts with the feminist agenda imposed 
on them. All literary and artistic works, no matter how great, that 
document the ambivalence of female sexuality they are trained to 
dismiss as "misogynous." In other words, their minds are being 
programmed to secede from their bodies — exactly the opposite of 
what the Sixties sexual and cultural revolution was all about. There 
is a huge gap between feminist rhetoric and women's actual sex 
lives, where feminism is of little help except with a certain stratum 
of deferential, malleable, white middle-class men. In contrast, Hol- 
lywood actresses, used to expressing emotional truths, are always 
reappearing after pregnancy to proclaim, "I'm not important. My 
child is important." The most recent was Kelly McGillis, who said, 
"Motherhood has changed me. I'm not as ambitious as I used to 
be." It is nature, not patriarchal society, that puts motherhood and 
career on a collision course. 

My first inkling of the psychological maelstrom suffered by this 
generation of female students came in 1980, when I returned to New 
Haven after eight years away (at my first job at Bennington, which 
ended with a bang). Yale College had admitted its first women in 
1969, while I was a graduate student. Returning to the Gross Cam- 
pus Library, brand-new when I left, I was horrified to find the stalls 
of the women's toilets covered with bizarre, ranting graffiti. There 
was little humor or bawdiness; the principal imagery was of nausea, 
disgust, and self-loathing. "Something is going wrong with femi- 
nism," I said to friends at the time. The Yale graffiti seemed de- 
mented, psychotic, like those one would expect to find at New York's 
Port Authority Bus Terminal. When Brown girls created a national 
furor in 1990 by posting names of alleged rapists in the toilets, the 
media completely missed the real story: why were squalid toilets 
now the forum for self-expression by supposed future leaders? These 



sewer spaces, converted to pagan vomitoria, offer women students 
their sole campus rendezvous with their own physiology. 

The strident rape discourse is a hysterical eruption from the 
deepest levels of American bourgeois life. Early in this phase of 
feminism, it was still possible to say, ''Taste your menstrual 
blood" — that is, reclaim your physicality. Today, with the callow 
new brand of yuppie feminist with her simpering, prom-queen man- 
ner, we have regressed to the Fifties era of cashmere sweaters and 
pearls. The blood and guts of women's reproductive cycle are light- 
years beyond the reach of these doilhouse moppets. White middle- 
class feminists of every age have shown themselves spectacularly 
unable to confront the grossness of their own physiological processes. 
The passages in Sexual Personae vividly depicting that humid, lab- 
yrinthine reality have made them flee like Victorian spinsters shriek- 
ing at a mouse. 

Until the bloody barbarousness of procreation is fully absorbed, 
without the abstract jargon and genteel euphemisms that now dom- 
inate gender studies, rape will not be understood. By defining rape 
in exclusively social terms — as an attack by the powerful against 
the powerless — feminism has missed the point. It is woman, as 
mistress of birth, who has the real power. As my colleague Jack 
DeWitt likes to say, "Any woman is more powerful than any man." 

Rape is an act of desperation, a confession of envy and exclusion. 
All men — even, I have written, Jesus himself — began as flecks of 
tissue inside a woman's womb. Every boy must stagger out of the 
shadow of a mother goddess, whom he never fully escapes. Because 
of my history of wavering gender and sexual orientation, I feel I 
have a special insight into these matters: I see with the eyes of the 
rapist. Hence I realize how dangerously misleading the feminist rape 
discourse is. Rape is a breaking and entering; but so is the bloody 
act of defloration. Sex is inherently problematic. 

Women have it. Men want it. What is it? The secret of life, 
symbolized in heroic sagas by the golden fleece sought by Jason, or 
by the Gorgon's head brandished as a sexual trophy by Cellini's 
Perseus. The rapist is sickened by the conflict between his humili- 
ating neediness and his masculine rage for autonomy. He feels suf- 
focated by woman and yet entranced and allured by her. He is 
betrayed into dependency by his own impulses, the leaping urges of 



the body. Stalking women like prey returns him to prehistoric free- 
dom, when the wiliest, swiftest, and strongest survived. Rape-murder 
is a primitive theft of energy, a cannibalistic drinking of life force. 

When toddlers or schoolgirls are kidnapped, brutally assaulted, 
and killed, the world is rightly horrified and sickened. But why are 
we surprised? Heinous acts of profanation and degradation fill the 
annals of history and great literature — Neoptolemus' slaughter of 
Priam at the altar, Herod's massacre of the innocents, the immure- 
ment and bestial death of Dante's Ugolino. Until recently, most 
societies had a clear idea of what constitutes "uncivilized" or "un- 
godly" behavior and punished it accordingly. Today, in contrast, 
there is a tendency to redefine the victimizer as himself a victim — 
of a broken home or abusive parents — and then, ironically, to 
broaden criminality to areas of consensual activities where women 
are equally responsible for their behavior. When feminist discourse 
is unable to discriminate the drunken fraternity brother from the 
homicidal maniac, women are in trouble. 

Rape-murder comes from the brutish region of pure animal 
appetite. Feminist confidence that the whole human race can be 
"reeducated" to totally eliminate the possibility of rape is pure folly. 
Even if, very optimistically, 80 percent of all men could be repro- 
grammed, 20 percent would remain, toward whom women would 
still have to remain vigilant. Even if 99 percent were neutralized — 
absurdly unlikely — that would leave 1 percent, against whom wom- 
en's level of self-defense would need to be just as high as against 90 
percent. Wave after wave of boys hit puberty every year. Do fem- 
inists, with their multicultural pretensions, really envision a massive 
export of white bourgeois good manners all around the world? Speak 
of imperialism! When Balthasar, one of the Magi, advises Ben-Hur 
to leave vengeance to God, the sheik murmurs, "Balthasar is a good 
man. But until all men are like him, we must keep our swords 

The dishonesty and speciousness of the feminist rape analysis 
are demonstrated by its failure to explore, or even mention, man- 
on-man sex crimes. If rape were really just a process of political 
intimidation of women by men, why do men rape and kill other 
males? The deceptively demure persona of the soft-spoken, homo- 
sexual serial-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, like that of handsome, 



charming Ted Bundy, should warn everyone that we still live in a 
sexual jungle. Nothing in feminist ideology addresses the grim truth 
that beauty itself may be an incitement to destroy, that there is a 
frenzy of primitive pleasure in torturing captives or smashing things. 
I learned from art about the willful violation of innocence. When 
babies, nuns, or grandmothers are raped, it can be understood only 
in terms of what pagan antiquity called "pollution," a sullying of 
the sacred. Feminist overstress on power differentials gets us no- 
where; it cannot explain spasmodic bursts of slashing criminal lust. 

The problem with America's current preoccupation with child 
abuse is that cultural taboos automatically eroticize what is forbid- 
den. Marking off zones of purity increases their desirability and 
ensures their profanation. Children are not that innocent, and we 
must put an end to Anglo-American hypocrisy on this question. 
Children, sanctified by Victorian Romanticism, are quite capable of 
perverse and horrific fantasy, without adult suggestion. A century 
after Freud proposed his theory of infantile sexuality, most parents 
(outside of Malibu or Tribeca) still cannot intellectually accept it — 
partly because doing so would activate the incest taboo. The enor- 
mous publicity about child-abuse has certainly increased safety 
awareness, but I doubt it has lowered the crime rate. Snatching a 
perfect child from under the noses of society's guardians has become 
the ultimate subversive act of the outlaw. Such criminality, I main- 
tained in Sexual Personae, is the product not of a bad environment 
but of the opposite, a failure of social conditioning. Serial rape- 
murderers, cool, logical, and precise, are not "insane" and deserve 
to be executed, not as deterrence but as justice for the survivors. 

Far from being inhuman or "monstrous," sex crime is a ritual 
enactment of natural aggressions latent in all sexuality, which is 
primarily mating behavior and has only recently been redefined in 
recreational terms. The best survey I have yet seen of the clashing 
psychodynamics of eroticism is Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene 
(1590), which remains amazingly applicable today, four hundred 
years after it was written. Spenser sees the fine gradations of sexual 
behavior, from chivalrous courtship to duplicitous seduction and 
loutish brigandage. Studying the poem in depth in the Seventies, I 
identified what I called its "rape cycle." Like a specter stalking a 
college mixer, Spenser acutely describes the tantalizing sexual vul- 



nerability of passive femininity and the militant warriorship of ma- 
ture, self-reliant womanhood. Naivete evokes its own destruction. 
This is not "blaming the victim"; it is saying victimhood cannot 
become a vocation. 

Until feminism permits the return of the ancient identification 
of woman and nature in its full disturbing power, rape will remain 
an enigma. Rape is an invasion of territory, a despoilment of virgin 
ground. The radically different sexual geography of men's and wom- 
en's bodies has led to feminist inability to understand male psy- 
chology. "She made me do it": this strange assertion by rapists 
expresses man's sense of subservience to woman's sexual allure. The 
rapist feels enslaved, insignificant: women seem enclosed, imper- 
vious. From the outside, female sexuality glows like the full moon. 
The stormy complexity of the rapist's inner life has been obscured 
by the therapeutic jargon he is soon speaking in prison, once he has 
been brainwashed by the social-welfare workers. Until women grasp 
the blood-sport aspect of rape, they will be unable to protect them- 

Films of the mating behavior of most other species — a staple of 
public television in America — demonstrate that the female chooses. 
Males pursue, show off, brawl, scuffle, and make general fools of 
themselves for love. A major failing of most feminist ideology is its 
dumb, ungenerous stereotyping of men as tyrants and abusers, when 
in fact — as I know full well, from my own mortifying lesbian ex- 
perience — men are tormented by women's flirtatiousness and hem- 
ming and hawing, their manipulations and changeableness, their 
humiliating rejections. Cock teasing is a universal reality. It is part 
of women's merciless testing and cold-eyed comparison shopping for 
potential mates. Men will do anything to win the favor of women. 
Women literally size up men — "What can you show me?" — in bed 
and out. If middle-class feminists think they conduct their love lives 
perfectly rationally, without any instinctual influences from biology, 
they are imbeciles. 

Following the sexual revolution of the Sixties, dating has become 
a form of Russian roulette. Some girls have traditional religious 
values and mean to remain virgin until marriage. Others are leery 
of AIDS, unsure of what they want, but can be convinced. For others, 
anything goes: they'll jump into bed on the first date. What's a guy 



to do? Surely, for the good of the human species, we want to keep 
men virile and vigorous. They should feel free to seek sex and to 
persuade reluctant women. As a libertarian, I believe that we have 
absolute right to our own body and that no one may lay a hand on 
us without our consent. But consent may be nonverbal, expressed 
by language or behavior — such as going to a stranger's apartment 
on the first date, which I think should correctly be interpreted as 
consent to sex. "Verbal coercion" is a ridiculous concept: I agree 
with Ovid that every trick of rhetoric should be used in the slippery 
art of love. 

Sexual personae are the key to this new age of uncertainty. I 
follow the gay male model in defining every date as a potential sexual 
encounter. Given that the rules are in flux, the issue of sexual avail- 
ability must be negotiated, implicitly or explicitly, from the first 
moment on. Women must take responsibility for their share in this 
exchange, which means they must scrupulously critique their own 
mannerisms and clothing choices and not allow themselves to drift 
willy-nilly into compromising situations. As a teacher, I have seen 
time and again a certain kind of American middle-class girl who 
projects winsome malleability, a soft, unfocused, help-me-please per- 
sona that, in adult life, is a recipe for disaster. These are the ones 
who end up with the string of abusive boyfriends or in sticky situ- 
ations with overfamiliar male authority figures who call them 

Deconstruction of the bourgeois code of "niceness" is a priority 
here. My generation tried it but seems mostly to have failed. Second, 
white girls need a crash course in common sense. You get back what 
you put out. Or as I say about girls wearing Madonna's harlot 
outfits, if you advertise, you'd better be ready to sell! Suburban girls 
don't realize that they were raised in an artificially pacified zone 
and that the world at large, including the college campus, is a far 
riskier place. I call my feminism "streetwise" or "street-smart" fem- 
inism. Women from working-class families usually agree with my 
view of the foolhardiness of feminist rhetoric, which encourages girls 
to throbbingly proclaim, "We can dress just as we want and go 
anywhere we want at any time!" This is true only to the point that 
women are willing to remain in a state of wary alertness and to fight 



their own fights. Men are in danger too. In America, one sees over- 
protected white girls bopping obliviously down the city street, lost 
in their headphones, or jogging conspicuously and bouncingly bra- 
less, a sight guaranteed to invite unwanted attention. 

It is tremendously difficult to convince feminist professional 
women of the existence of unconscious or subliminal erotic com- 
munication. As my friend Bruce Benderson says, their middle-class 
world has "no subtext." Women of the Sixties had far bolder and 
more salacious imaginations. The career system into which women 
have definitively won entry over the past twenty-five years seems to 
have rigidified their thinking. Stalinist literalism has become the 
norm. Shocked disbelief greets suggestions that many women may 
take pleasure in rape fantasies, established long ago by Nancy Friday 
in her pioneering 1973 study, My Secret Garden, and dramatized today 
in the staggering mass-market popularity of Harlequin Romances, 
where heroines are overwhelmed by passionate, impetuous men. My 
warning description of the buffoonish "fun element" and "mad in- 
fectious delirium" of gang rape particularly infuriated many middle- 
class feminists, even though the point is easily proved by movies like 
Two Women, The Virgin Spring, A Clockwork Orange, Deliverance, Death 
Wish, or North Dallas Forty. That men can satisfy their desires on an 
inert or unconscious object seems intolerable to such women, though 
it is a fact of life, palatable or not. Male sexual functioning does not 
depend on female response. And the illicit is always highly charged. 

All crimes of sex or mutilation contain pagan paradigms, hidden 
ritual symbolism we must learn to read. Pious rubrics like "Violence 
Against Women" — the stentorian title of a 1993 Congressional bill — 
are too simplistic. Surges of instinctual power are going on beneath 
the surface of every human exchange. Having sex with a woman is 
an earned action and honorific for young men, who lack an internal 
rite of passage like menstruation and who must therefore create an 
adult sexual identity for themselves in ways that women do not. Sex 
crime is revenge against women as an abstract class for wounds 
already suffered by men as a class — the wound of birth and its 
consequent galling dependencies. Until we widen the lens to take in 
nature, women will not know what is happening or how to control 
it. Victimization is a dead end. Better to meditate instead on the 



great pagan archetypes of the mother, with her terrible duality of 
creation and destruction. Women must accept their own ambiva- 
lence in order to wield their birthright of dominion over men. 

3. sex war: 


The principal controversies of recent feminism have usually in 
some way involved a failure to deal with the issue of aggression. In 
the hundred-year-old nature versus nurture debate, contemporary 
feminists have taken the Rousseauist position that we are born good 
and society makes us bad. The naturists among them are ultimately 
twin to the nurturists, or social constructionists, since the former 
see nature as uniformly benign, despite constant catastrophic evi- 
dence to the contrary. Sentimental overidealization of women runs 
throughout anti-male feminist thought, from the prim, solemn Carol 
Gilligan to the acridly cynical Marilyn French, with their flagrant 
misreadings of social history. 

The campaign for abortion rights, which has polarized America, 
was systematically mismanaged by feminist leaders, partly because 
of their refusal to acknowledge the violence inherent in any termi- 
nation of life. The same people who opposed capital punishment 
ironically fought for abortion on demand, showing a peculiar dis- 
crimination about whom to execute. Squeamishly sensitive about 
their humanitarian self-image, feminists have used convoluted ca- 
suistry to define the aborted fetus in purely material terms as inert 
tissue, efficiently flushed. 

My views are more consistent: I support the death penalty for 
outrageous crimes, such as political assassination or serial rape- 
murder, and I am fervently pro-abortion — the term 4 'pro-choice" is 
a cowardly euphemism. Women's modern liberation is inextricably 
linked to their ability to control reproduction, which has enslaved 
them from the origin of the species. It is nature, again, that is our 
real oppressor. Men's contribution to conception and gestation is 
minimal, compared to the burden borne by pregnant and nursing 
women. Patriarchy, routinely blamed for everything, produced the 
birth control pill, which did more to free contemporary women than 
feminism itself. 


The vicious stereotyping of abortion opponents as "anti- 
woman" or "far right fanatics" has been one of the most deplorable 
habits of the feminist establishment. For years, mass mailings of the 
National Organization for Women were filled with hysterical rhet- 
oric that repelled and alienated even abortion supporters like me. 
With their propagandistic frame of mind, feminist leaders never 
admitted that their opponents could be equally motivated by ethics. 
In fact, the ethical weight may be on the other side in this debate. 
We career women are arguing from expedience: it is personally and 
professionally inconvenient or onerous to bear an unwanted child. 
The pro-life movement, in contrast, is arguing that every conception 
is sacred and that society has a responsibility to protect the defense- 

Among the most memorable moments in my career as a public 
speaker occurred in September 1992, when I pressed this issue during 
my lectures at the University of Washington in Seattle and at the 
Herbst Theater in San Francisco. It was risky: feminist orthodoxy 
had jelled around abortion rights, and challenge was not brooked. 
But as I, from the position of abortion advocacy, dramatized the 
injustice of feminist contempt for the pro-life position, an eerie silence 
fell over the crowd. It was as if we all felt the uneasy conscience of 

The inflexible sectarianism of feminist leaders was on embar- 
rassing public view during the 1990 Senate Judiciary Committee 
hearings for the nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court. 
Present and past presidents of NOW (including Eleanor Smeal) and 
their partisans sat with querulous expressions of childish petulance 
and whined and sneered at the all-male panel before them. Abortion, 
just one of many pressing issues facing the nation, had become a 
low gate through which any nominee to the court had to stoop. The 
women's performance was loathsome. It is by such self-defeating 
exercises in solipsism that feminism has repeatedly injured itself. 

That another, more intelligent and sophisticated approach is 
possible was proved by the next witness, Faye Wattleton, presi- 
dent of Planned Parenthood, who was accompanied by the ever- 
reasonable Kate Michaelman, head of the National Abortion Rights 
League. Dignified and articulate, Wattleton presented the pro- 
abortion case with crisp, cool professionalism. Unlike the others, she 



showed respect for the occasion and the historical setting. Beautiful, 
elegant, and grand, she demonstrated that it is African-American 
women, not white middle-class feminists, who have already created 
the ideal female persona of the twenty-first century. 

The problem with the abortion rights crusade is that it is locked 
in a secular mind-set of me-first entitlement. Religious objections to 
abortion are based on devout study of the Bible, understood by 
believers as the word of God. "Be fruitful, and multiply" (Gen. 1:28): 
it is not enough to respond that this admonition to a small, struggling 
ancient people may no longer be applicable to an overpopulated 
world of dwindling resources. Theologians are not grocery managers 
taking inventory. For the faithful, God's plan is beyond human 
understanding, and one cannot pick and choose among his com- 

To rescue feminism, we must give religion its due but require 
it to stay in its place. Again, Judeo-Christianity is only half our 
tradition. Paganism has other paradigms to offer. The militant virgin 
goddesses, Athena and Artemis, with their cold autonomy, are her- 
oines of mine. Plato speaks of two Aphrodites, a common one of 
physical childbirth and the other, the Uranian, patron of spiritual 
and intellectual influence, specially associated with homoerotic re- 
lations. Evasion of nature's biological imperative is distinctly human. 
I take the extreme view of that Enlightenment neopagan, the Mar- 
quis de Sade, who lauds abortion and sodomy for their bold frus- 
tration of mother nature's relentless fertility. My code of modern 
Amazonism says that nature's fascist scheme of menstruation and 
procreation should be defied, as a gross infringement of woman's free 

Unlike the feminist establishment, I recognize that abortion is 
killing. But slaughter and harvest — symbolized by the sickle crescent 
of the moon goddess (which appears as a castrating blade in Picasso's 
Les Demoiselles d 'Avignon) — are the record of human sustenance and 
survival for ten thousand years. A pagan vision, like that of Ten- 
nessee Williams's Suddenly, Last Summer, will see the terrifying mass 
destruction in nature's procreative plan. Nature scatters a billion 
seeds to the wind. We must philosophically strengthen feminist the- 
ory so that it can admit that abortion is an aggressive act, that it is 



a form of extermination. Modern woman has become an agent of 
Darwinian triage. It is or should be ethically troubling: abortion pits 
the stronger against the weaker, and only one survives. The feminist 
coat-hanger symbol, prophesying the return of back-alley butchery 
if abortion is regulated or banned, is dishonest. A small number of 
women may die in botched procedures, but in successful abortions, 
the fetus death rate is 100 percent. 

As a libertarian, I support unrestricted access to abortion be- 
cause I have reasoned that my absolute right to my body takes 
precedence over the brute claims of mother nature, who wants to 
reduce women to their animal function as breeders. Women who 
want to achieve are at war with nature, as is shown by the hormonally 
disordering effects of career stress or extreme athletic training. In 
the Seventies, women runners, developing amenorrhea and calcium- 
related shin splints, were the first to realize that nature is hovering 
over us, ready to shut down our systems if our fetus-feeding fat 
reserve drops below a certain percentage of body weight. In other 
words, in nature's eyes we are nothing but milk sacs and fat deposits. 
Women inspired by the Uranian Aphrodite to produce spiritual 
progeny should view abortion as a sword of self-defense put into 
their hands by Ares, the war god. Government, guaranteeing free- 
dom of religion, has no right to interfere in our quarrel with our 
Creator, in this case pagan nature. Under the carnal constitution 
that precedes social citizenship, women have the right to bear arms. 
The battlefield is internal, and it belongs to us. 

Aggression must be returned to the center of feminist thinking. 
The rape discourse derailed itself early on by its nonsensical for- 
mulation, "Rape is a crime of violence but not of sex," a mantra 
that, along with "No always means no," blanketed the American 
media until I arrived on the scene. Feminists had an astoundingly 
naive view of the mutual exclusiveness of sex and aggression, which, 
Freud demonstrates, are fused in the amoral unconscious, as revealed 
to us through dreams. That rape is simply what used to be called 
"unbridled lust," like gluttony a sin of insufficient self-restraint, 
seems to be beyond feminist ken. Rape is piggish, cave-man, hand- 
to-mouth gorging, the rudimentary, subsistence-level stage of moral 
development of tots at "the terrible twos," when they must be taught 



not to bash other children over the head to steal their sweets. Evo- 
lution does exist in history, and it is recapitulated in effective child- 

The absence of a feminist theory of aggression is blatant in the 
so-called "battered woman syndrome," yet another major article of 
current dogma. We are instructed by the earnest social-welfare prel- 
ates, their faces permanently creased in ostentatious Christlike com- 
passion, that women who have been beaten for years by lovers or 
husbands become lethargic prisoners of war, brainwashed hostages 
without free will who must be excused from any atrocious act they 
commit, in lieu of something so simple as actually packing up and 
leaving. Even cutting off a man's penis while he is sleeping is legit- 
imized as "temporary insanity," as shown by the questionable ac- 
quittal in 1994 of Lorena Bobbitt, a Latin firecracker who knew 
exactly what she was doing not only when she wielded the knife but 
when she turned on the waterworks for the jury. The Bobbitt case, 
which brought to life the ancient mythic archetype of woman as 
castrator, demonstrated that women are as aggressive as men and 
that sex is a dark, dangerous force of nature. But of course the 
feminist establishment, stuck in its battered-woman blinders, learned 
nothing as usual from this lurid refutation of its normal views. Classic 
art works like Bizet's Carmen tell us more about the irrationality of 
love, jealousy, and revenge than do the pat formulas of the counseling 

Feminism as a world movement must continue to address the 
grave problem in economically underdeveloped countries of women 
being treated as chattel or even killed by husbands or families for 
being a financial burden. Feminists are to be commended when they 
provide legal advice and material resources for escape from such 
intractable conditions. However, that battered women in the in- 
dustrialized democracies do not leave home because they are finan- 
cially dependent on their mates is fast ceasing to be a credible excuse. 
A 1991 study of admissions of battered middle-class women to a San 
Francisco hospital emergency room found that 70 percent were not 
in fact financially dependent on their assailants — a rare example of 
a survey eluding control by the statistics-churning feminist propa- 
ganda machines, those "independent" think tanks with suspiciously 
close ties to government commissions. 



For twenty years, armies of battered women and their counselor- 
spokesmen have trooped through television talk shows. From the 
start, I was troubled by a frequent discrepancy between the victims' 
demeanor and testimony and the simplistic, male-blaming rhetoric 
imposed on their experience by their smug professional escorts. The 
rigid political paradigm of oppressor/victim was the only one per- 
mitted. There was rarely much psychological inquiry into the sticky 
complexities of sexual attraction and conflict that implicate both 
partners in any long-running private drama. 

As a feminist, I detest the rhetorical diminution of woman into 
passive punching bag, which is the basic premise of the "battered 
woman syndrome." Men strike women for quite another reason: 
because physical superiority is their only weapon against a being 
far more powerful than they. The blow does not subordinate; it 
equalizes. Aggression expresses itself in more than one way in the 
cycle of domestic violence (which includes underreported husband- 
battering). The polemical tactic of exhibiting garish mugshot photos 
of women's bruised faces evades the real issue. What led up to that 
moment in the emergency room? A video camera recording the 
episode before and after the assault would upset the received black- 
and-white view of male ogres and female martyrs. This is not to 
excuse men for their scurrilous behavior; it is to awaken women to 
their equal responsibility in dispute and confrontation. 

Any woman who stays with her abuser beyond the first incident 
is complicitous with him. I conjecture the basic scenario of many 
cases as follows. The batterer, like the serial adulterer, is an infantile 
personality who is fixated on the mother archetype in his wife. He 
demands her undivided attention, the narcotic of her quiet conso- 
lation. But he compulsively enjoys shattering her composure and 
destroying the family equilibrium she tries so hard to maintain. It's 
a terrorist way of keeping her alert, focused on him. The more he 
misbehaves, the more she feels he needs her. She finds his adolescent 
rambunctiousness both daunting and endearing — and, it has to be 
said, sexually exciting. 

She goads in her own way, little needling assertions of her ter- 
ritory and her rule over him. She implies he is inept, incapable of 
caring for himself without her. When he postures and demands, she 
is vague, vacillating; he can't reach her. He finds her serene self- 



containment intolerable because it ultimately represents women's 
priority to man, her unchallengeable control over procreation. No 
verbal argument can shake that. 

What leads up to the first blow is always the same: provoked 
or not, she has pushed his buttons of dependency. Once again, he 
faces his insignificance in women's eyes. He has dwindled back to 
boyhood, where women ruled him. To recover his adult masculinity, 
he lashes out at her with his fists. He savors her pain and fear, but 
her refusal to defend herself takes the fight out of him. He is sickened, 
desperate, apologetic. 

Here is the crux of the relationship, which has to be defined as 
sadomasochistic on both sides. His pleading reactivates the maternal 
in her. She forgives him. Never is he more open, vulnerable, and 
intimate than when he begs for a second chance — "I'll never do it 
again." His tenderness and affection enamor her. She is addicted to 
the apology. She is overwhelmed by sensory ecstasy, by the heightened 
passions of rage and frenzy yielding to the melting reunion of boy 
and mother, who nestles her son against her bosom. As in the self- 
flagellation of medieval Catholicism, physical pain may produce 
spiritual exaltation. The battered woman stays because she thinks 
she sees the truth and because, secretly, she knows she is victorious. 

Until it is recognized that women in these relationships are 
exerting their own form of aggression, battering will remain an 
enigma. Covert manipulation is just as powerful and far less easy 
to combat. The current etiology — that abuser and abused come from 
"dysfunctional" homes — makes little sense when one is also told 
that 90 percent of all families are dysfunctional. (The best critique 
of this mushy strain in recent American culture is Wendy Kaminer's 
I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.) Physical violence may be a 
form of simple catharsis, a ritualistic way of venting pent-up anxieties 
and hostilities originating outside the relationship. Bloody peniten- 
tial techniques have pagan as well as Christian roots, notably among 
the Aztecs and Anatolians. Our culture lacks formal outlets for these 
universal urges, except in our notoriously violent movies. 

The mutual war game concealed by the judgmental term "bat- 
tered woman syndrome" may contain obscure cravings for deeper 
knowledge of life, for it is not patriarchy but matriarchy that is older 
and more fundamental. A Zen analysis of such a struggling pair 



would not find the man winning. In pondering why a battered 
woman does not leave, we must remember that gay men with a taste 
for violent "rough trade" have always paid for this kind of sex. Are 
women so perfect and angelic that we cannot imagine them having 
sadomasochistic impulses? When they are genuinely victimized, 
women deserve our pity. But victimization alone cannot explain 
everything in the tragicomedy of love. 

Sexual harassment, the newest of the feminist issues, has degrees 
of severity, the worst being the terroristic stalking of women by ex- 
boyfriends or estranged husbands. By the time these painfully drawn 
out situations come to public notice, the woman may actually have 
been murdered.* Sometimes it is the woman who does the stalking, 
as in the 1989 Betty Broderick case, when an hysterical San Diego 
woman shot to death her lawyer ex-husband and his pretty new 
bride in their bed. These crime dramas are detailed on hour-long 
talk shows, where relatives, friends, neighbors, police, and the per- 
petrators themselves (often televised from prison) narrate the history 
of the conflict and its explosive finale. Then on come the therapists 
and crisis counselors to reduce these ambiguous sagas to bromides. 

What are the roots of obsession? To interpret the crazed idolatry 
that turns into hostility and destruction, you need to immerse your- 
self in the psychological world of great plays and novels — Iago's 
mysterious motivation, Othello's paroxysmic rage. Men who kill the 
women they love have reverted to pagan cult. She whom a man 
cannot live without has become a goddess, an avatar of his half- 
divinized, half-demonized mother, a magic fountain of cosmic crea- 
tivity. Without her, he cannot exist; he is obliterated. That anyone 
else should have her love, or even her gaze or presence, he cannot 
endure. It is an injustice, and so she becomes unjust: she must be 
punished. He interprets her refusal to see him as an act of war, so 
he lays siege to her citadel. To invade it and force himself into her 
attention restores his identity and importance. To harass, upset, and 
even kill her is to perpetuate his relationship with her. He would 
rather be hated than ignored. Like Richard III, he glories in his 

*In June 1994, five months after this essay was completed, football star 
O J. Simpson was charged with the brutal murder of his ex-wife and a male 



monstrosity, his ostracism by humanity. He goes willingly to prison 
and even to the gas chamber: this is 'Tor her" and their love. 

Until they understand the unstable dynamic of sexual attraction, 
women of heartbreakingly good intentions will continue to be drawn 
into these endless, agonizing struggles that may end in violence. It 
is not enough to say that men must change. Intimidation and assault 
are of course unacceptable in civilized society. Those who break the 
law must suffer the consequences. But emotion is a maelstrom. Polite, 
charitable people of unblemished records sometimes go completely 
haywire when tormented by love. Apollo and Dionysus are always 
at odds. Passion disorders. 

What I am calling for is a massive restoration of psychology to 
feminist thought. For reasons still unclear, we have completely lost 
the hip Freudianism and shrewd self-satirizing insights that were 
common coin in my generation's all-night college bull sessions, which 
resembled Nichols and May comedy sketches. Whining and shrew- 
ishness are today's favored campus style. A purely political analysis 
cannot help the very pretty, too "nice" girl being pursued and shoved 
around by an oafish fellow she has dropped — a scene I witnessed 
as a student in a Harpur College parking lot. Several of us had to 
intervene, as the boy began breaking icy snow-chunks over her head. 
Even then, I was struck by the girl's maternal patience and mel- 
ancholy affection, as she made no effort to fend off the blows but 
simply huddled, weeping, against the hood of a car. She saw, and 
we did too, that the violence came not from his sense of power but 
from its opposite, his wounded desperation and helplessness. 

It may be a principle of womanliness to forgive men for their 
childish excesses. I certainly am deficient in this area, for, as part 
of my general sexual alienation, I forgive nothing. On the contrary, 
I have made it my business, as the record shows, to personally punish 
every male trespass on female rights. But much violence against 
women originates in emotional territory that they already command. 
By midlife and early old age, as the hormones of both genders change, 
women are in total, despotic control of their marriages. 

First of all, wearisome as it may seem, women must realize that, 
in making a commitment to a man, they have merged in his un- 
conscious life with his mother and have therefore inherited the am- 
bivalence of that relation. Second, stalking by strangers is caused 



by projection, in which a woman (or boy) becomes an involuntary 
player in a shadowy fantasy that may recapitulate the stalker's child- 
hood or that may, less predictably, be a psychotic crime-as-art 
drama. Defending against the wraithlike intangibility of the latter 
will always require wariness, wisdom, and personal responsibility 
on women's part. 

The unpleasant truth is that we can never fully legislate the 
human psyche. Strange aberrations will continue to manifest them- 
selves at every level of society. Since murder victims cannot be 
resurrected, we need to give women a shrewder view of the world, 
so that they can better manage problems or avoid them altogether. 
Too many girls want to be liked, and not always because, in the 
current line, they are socialized to seek approval. I suspect most 
women are genetically more empathic, not as a moral value (in the 
tedious Gilligan manner) but as an intuitive faculty of infant care. 
Women's well-documented superiority in reading facial expressions, 
as well as their hormonally produced, hypersensitive thinner skin, 
supports this. What I see is not a world of male oppression and 
female victimization but an international conspiracy by women to 
keep from men the knowledge of men's own frailty. A strange ma- 
ternal protectiveness is at work. 

In negotiating with rejected lovers or husbands, women must 
stop thinking they can make everyone happy. In many cases of 
harassment and stalking, it is clear that the women never learned 
how to terminate the fantasy — which requires resolution and decisive- 
ness on their part. Wavering, dithering, or passive hysterical fear 
will only intensify or prolong pursuit. In war, one must counterattack 
and then cut clean and stand on one's own. Calm, contemptuous 
indifference, rather than panic, is more likely to succeed. Imprisoned 
serial rapists have constantly said that the pleading of victims ac- 
tually inflamed their lust. Intimidation usually stops when it ceases 
to be effective, which is why I think the tactic of escalating restraining 
orders, endorsed by many crisis counselors, can be dangerous and 
counterproductive. In most cases, the police alone cannot stop a 
determined stalker. As best they can, women must fight their own 
fights and oversee their own defense. 

In the less life-threatening area of the office, sexual harassment 
has become a key theme of contemporary professional life. I support 



moderate sexual harassment guidelines: after evaluating sample ac- 
ademic codes in my "Women and Sex Roles" class in 1986, 1 lobbied 
for their adoption at my university. Schools of the performing arts 
may be particularly vulnerable to this problem, since vocational 
teachers, unlike standard lecturers, must sometimes touch students 
as part of the instruction process. In dance class, a teacher may 
need to realign the arms, legs, or feet, or in cello class, to encircle 
a student with his or her arms to remedy weaknesses in bowing. 
Arts schools are also more likely to have a bigger roster of older, 
distinguished part-time faculty whose lives center elsewhere and 
whose commitment to the institution is minimal. 

White middle-class freshmen girls seemed especially to need help 
in self-definition and self-expression, and sexual harassment guide- 
lines were a promising way to embolden them to decide how they 
wanted to be treated. On the other hand, I was concerned about 
the possibility of false charges by grandstanding neurotics, with 
whom I'd had quite enough contact at Bennington. Every sexual 
harassment code should incorporate stiff penalties for false accusa- 
tion, presently rarely mentioned. This is also a glaring omission from 
the national rape debate. It was clear, from my own observations 
as well as student testimony, that some girls know instinctively how 
to halt unwanted familiarities and others do not but even make things 
worse by blushing and brightly smiling in ways that mime flirtation 
and pleasure. Social conventions are partly to blame, but I think 
we must hold even teenaged girls responsible for the persona they 
choose, since for most of their lives it has brought them the rewards 
of attention and popularity. 

I categorically reject current feminist cant that insists that the 
power differential of boss/worker or teacher/student makes the lesser 
party helpless to resist the hand on the knee, the bear hug, the sloppy 
kiss, or the off-color joke. Servility to authority to win favor is an 
old story; it was probably business-as-usual in Babylon. Objective 
research would likely show that the incidence of sycophancy by 
subordinates far exceeds that of coercion by bosses. That a woman, 
whether or not she has dependent children, has no choice but to 
submit without protest to a degrading situation is absurd. Women, 
as much as men, have the obligation to maintain their human dig- 
nity, without recourse to a posteriori tribunals (much less those a 



decade later, as with wily Anita Hill). It is an hour-by-hour, month- 
by-month, year-by-year process. Literally from the first moment of 
arrival at a job or in any social situation, a person is being tested 
and must set the tone by his or her responses. My entire Italian- 
immigrant extended family, in its transition over fifty years from 
blue-collar to white-collar work, has followed that policy of forth- 
rightness and self-respect. Lack of money does not excuse groveling. 

The quid pro quo ruse — where a sex act is demanded for a pro- 
motion or job security — is the most grievous of sexual harassment 
offenses and should be suitably punished, but one wonders just how 
common so clumsily blatant a proposition is these days. I suspect 
some men just try for what they can get, and a few unprepared, 
overly trusting women fall for it. We cannot expect government to 
make up for ancient lapses in child rearing. The "hostile workplace" 
clause, on the other hand, which has become an integral part of 
sexual harassment policy and has even, to my regret, passed review 
by the Supreme Court, seems to me reactionary and totalitarian. 
Mere offensiveness, which is open to subjective interpretation, is not 
harassment. The problem with the "hostile workplace" concept is 
that it is culturally parochial: it imposes a genteel white lady's stan- 
dard of decorum on everyone, and when blindly applied by man- 
agement, it imperialistically exports white middle-class manners, 
appropriate to an office, into the vigorously physical and more re- 
alistic working-class realm. The mincing minuets and sexual eti- 
quette of the scribal class of paperpushers make no sense outside 
their carpeted cubicles of fluorescent light. 

The folly of this nomenclature is that every workplace is hostile, 
as any man who has worked his way up the cutthroat corporate 
ladder will testify. Teamwork requires cooperation, but companies 
without internal and external competition remain stagnant. Inno- 
vation and leadership require strategies of opposition and outstrip- 
ping, however one wants to disguise it. The "transformative 
feminism" of thinkers like Suzanne Gordon (whose progressive pol- 
itics I respect), which imagines a pleasant, stress-free work envi- 
ronment where the lion lies down with the lamb, is unreachably 
Utopian. Once again, aggression is not being confronted here. For 
every winner, there are a hundred losers. The workplace is the pagan 
arena, where head-on crashes are the rule. 



It is outrageous that the "hostile workplace" clause is now rou- 
tinely applied to coarse or ribald language, as when in 1993 a Boston 
Globe writer jokingly called another male staffer "pussywhipped" 
and was reported by a female employee and fined by his editor. 
Nude images are also affected by this clause, as when laborers are 
puritanically forbidden to post risque calendars or tape Playboy pic- 
tures to their lockers or even, as in Los Angeles firehouses, to read 
Playboy at work. A graduate student at the University of Nebraska 
was forced to remove a photo of his bikini-clad wife from his desk, 
when two female fellow students complained to the chairman that 
they felt sexually harassed by it. This used to be called "paranoia." 
Why are snippy neurotics running our lives? 

In a highly publicized incident, a dowdy English instructor 
pressured Penn State administrators to take down a print of Goya's 
Naked Maja from her classroom in an arts building, where it had 
hung unmolested for decades. She complained that the students were 
looking at it instead of her (I can't imagine why). The situation has 
gotten so out of hand that, in 1993, in one of the first British cases, 
a plumber was fired for continuing to use the traditional term "ball- 
cock" for the toilet flotation unit, instead of the new politically correct 
term, sanitized of sexual suggestiveness. This is insane. We are back 
to the Victorian era, when table legs had to be draped lest they put 
the thought of ladies' legs into someone's dirty mind. 

My libertarian position is that, in a democracy, words must not 
be policed. Whatever good some people feel may be gained by re- 
strictions on speech, it is enormously outweighed by the damage 
done to any society where expression is restricted. History shows 
that all attempts to limit words end by stifling thought. I am a 
Sixties free speech militant. As part of our rebellion, we middle-class 
girls flung around the raunchiest four-letter words we could find: 
we were trying to shatter the code of gentility, delicacy, and prudery 
that had imprisoned respectable women since the rise of the 
bourgeoisie after the industrial revolution. Pictures too are protected 
expression: I define images as pagan speech. 

There are very few instances where speech properly falls under 
government scrutiny, and those involve either fraudulent represen- 
tations in business contracts or disturbances of the peace, such as 
shouting "fire" in a crowded theater or disrupting residential neigh- 


borhoods or campuses by noisy late-night reveling. In the latter, if 
offensive epithets are used, it is not the content of the words that is 
punishable but the fact that anything at all is shouted at that hour. 
Epithets and stereotypes are not fraudulent in a commercial sense; 
they are crudely distorted or parodistic versions of a substratum of 
historical truth or perception, which no one, however well-meaning, 
has a right to erase. 

I question the concept of "fighting words," except when an 
arresting officer or judge weighing sentencing considers whether a 
brawl that led to injury was provoked by an insult — which could 
be aspersions on one's beauty, taste, character, or virility as easily 
as on one's race or ethnicity. Attitudes are not changed by forbidding 
their expression; on the contrary, forcing social resentments under- 
ground simply increases the power of conservative ideologues or 
fascist extremists to speak for the silenced. Campus speech codes, 
that folly of the navel-gazing left, have increased the appeal of the 
right. Ideas must confront ideas. When hurt feelings and bruised 
egos are more important than the unfettered life of the mind, the 
universities have committed suicide. 

Sexual harassment guidelines, if overdone, will end by harming 
women more than helping them. In the rough play of the arena, 
women must make their own way. If someone offends you by speech, 
you must learn to defend yourself by speech. The answer cannot be 
to beg for outside help to curtail your opponent's free movement. 
The message conveyed by such attitudes is that women are too weak 
to win by men's rules and must be awarded a procedural advantage 
before they even climb into the ring. Teasing and taunting have 
always been intrinsic to the hazing rituals of male bonding. The 
elaborate shouting matches and satirical putdowns of African tribal 
life can still be heard in American pop music ("You been whupped 
with the ugly stick!" — uproarious laughter) and among drag queens, 
where it's called "throwing shade." Middle-class white women have 
got to get over their superiority complex and learn to talk trash with 
the rest of the human race. 

A sex-free workplace is neither possible nor desirable. Many 
people meet their spouses at work, just as students may marry their 
professors. After the mannish John Molloy dress-for-success look of 
the Seventies, when women first moved massively into fast-track 


careers, the more glamourous Eighties professional style allowed 
women to recover their femininity while still being taken seriously 
on the job. But we must face the fact that women's formal dress is 
inherently more erotic than men's. There is a subliminally arous- 
ing sensuality to perfume, lipstick, nail lacquer, vivid colors, silky 
fabrics, delicate jewelry, and high-heeled pumps. Exposed legs, 
which early Neanderthal feminists saw as a symbol of subordination 
(more exposed flesh = less power), are in the Nineties beginning to 
be understood as a visible incarnation of women's sexual power. 

For all the feminist jabber about women being victimized by 
fashion, it is men who most suffer from conventions of dress. Every 
day, a woman can choose from an army of personae, femme to butch, 
and can cut or curl her hair or adorn herself with a staggering variety 
of artistic aids. But despite the Sixties experiments in peacock dress, 
no man can rise in the corporate world today, outside the enter- 
tainment industry, with long hair or makeup or purple velvet suits. 
Men's aesthetic impulses have been stifled since the industrial rev- 
olution. Beautiful, fragile clothing is historically an aristocratic pre- 
rogative, signifying freedom from manual labor. The contemporary 
clothing debate echoes the seventeenth-century standoff between 
Cavaliers and Puritans, those earnest workaholics whose sober black 
dress as our "Pilgrim Fathers" is foisted on us yearly in Thanksgiving 

In the modern workplace, men are drones, and women are queen 
bees. Men's corporate costume, with its fore-and-aft jacket flaps, 
conceals their sexuality. Woman's eroticized dress inescapably 
makes her the center of visual interest, whether people are conscious 
of it or not. Most women, as well as most men, straight or gay, 
instantly appraise whether a woman has "good legs" or a big bosom, 
not because these attributes diminish her or reduce her to "meat" 
(another feminist canard) but because they unjustifiably add to her 
power in ways that may destabilize the workplace. Woman's sex- 
uality is disruptive of the dully mechanical workaday world, in which 
efficiency means uniformity. The problems of woman's entrance into 
the career system spring from more than male chauvinism. She 
brings nature into the social realm, which may be too small to con- 
tain it. 

One reason I favor reasonable sexual harassment guidelines is 



that they alert women to the erotic energies they inspire. But the 
matter is not asymmetrical, with virtuous women dutifully going 
about their tasks when — horrors! — jets of inky male lust spurt in 
their direction. (Cf. Hitchcock's Marnie madly bolting for the ladies 
room when red ink spots her sleeve.) I protest the recent creation, 
as if by dragon's teeth, of a master class of sexual harassment com- 
missars, the cadres of specialists and consultants with their vested 
economic interest in this field. Like the campus kangaroo courts 
(the date-rape and speech-code grievance committees, with their 
haphazard roosters), the sexual harassment inquisitors are poorly 
trained for what they are doing. The dreary worldview of professional 
bureaucrats is untouched by Rabelais, Swift, Fielding, Wilde, or 
Shaw. How has the society that invented rock and roll ended up in 
the grip of these schoolmarmish monitors of sexual mores? 

Class values have been seriously neglected in feminism, which 
takes a simplistic designer-Marxist view of the proletarian-as-victim. 
When they do not docilely act like victims, laborers are treated like 
heathen. For example, construction workers are demonized for their 
lunchtime diversion of staring, leering, whistling, and catcalling at 
passing female office workers, some of whom — lawyers and execu- 
tives — regard themselves as very mighty indeed and far too lofty for 
such treatment. One side of me finds these spectacles annoying and 
sometimes enraging; the other cheers the workers on, for they are 
among the last remaining masculine men of action in a world where 
even soldiering has become computerized. We should applaud any- 
thing that challenges and explodes bourgeois decorum in our over- 
regimented nine-to-five world. There is likewise a class issue in the 
prohibiting of nude centerfolds on lockers, since the pictorials of 
men's magazines correspond, in my view, to museum prints of nude 
paintings and sculpture that middle-class men can generally collect 
and display without interference. 

When pressed to excess, sexual harassment rules will inevitably 
frustrate women's aspirations in another area: breaking through the 
so-called "glass ceiling," the invisible barrier that allegedly stalls 
women at middle management positions and keeps them out of 
corporate boardrooms and top executive suites. Feminists blame the 
"glass ceiling" on gender discrimination and the "old boy" network. 
But many people, male and female, have difficulty forging a persona 



of leadership, which may require talents different from the people- 
oriented and clerical skills of middle managers. 

When they are encouraged to overrely on the threat of sexual 
harassment claims, women are being institutionally deprived of de- 
velopment of precisely the hard-nosed, thick-skinned tactics they 
need to reach the upper echelons. It is not just a particular job but 
treacherous office politics that ambitious future executives must mas- 
ter. Hostility and harassment of all kinds lie before you. Men set 
traps for each other, as well as for women. A mirage of cordial fog 
covers the snakepits. Breaking into a group requires staking out 
one's territory, which among humans and other animals means fierce 
skirmishes and border disputes. Women must find their own place 
in the pecking order, for which open aggression is sometimes nec- 
essary. You must bare your own fangs and not someone else's, if 
you want to be leader of the pack. 

Paradoxically, conservative women like Margaret Thatcher 
have found it easier to reach the highest post in their countries. 
Liberal women achieved political prominence in America under the 
early Clinton presidency because the status of domestic social issues 
rises in periods of peace. If we are ever to have a woman president, 
she must, like Thatcher, demonstrate her readiness and ability to 
command the military. Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, for ex- 
ample, one of the beaming Betty Crockers who drive crabby Sixties 
feminists like me crazy, has not shown, despite her long experience 
on the Armed Services Committee, any of the qualities of reserved 
authority necessary to win the confidence and respect of the troops, 
whom, in an emergency, the president must lead. This constitutional 
obligation was self-destructively neglected by Bill Clinton himself, 
whose strong mother made him sensitive to women's concerns but 
whose lack of a positive father figure made him indifferent to military 
matters until it was too late (the mishandling of the controversy 
over gays in the military being one result). 

Empathy alone will never propel a woman into the White House. 
Women will continue to become senators and governors, but the 
presidency will be won only by the female candidate who finds the 
correct sexual persona. Leadership is warm on the surface but cold 
at its heart. At the top, one must have the long view, a disciplined 
detachment. Every decision requires betraying something or some- 



one else. In war, individuals may have to be cruelly sacrificed for 
the survival of the whole. Movies about the great age of sailing ships 
show what I mean: under fire, the captain is a still, stable point of 
steely consciousness. As events swirl around him, he transmits his 
orders in a low voice to the first mate, who shouts them to the crew 
and ensures their enforcement. In contemporary terms, the chief 
executive officer is not necessarily a "people person": he carries his 
solitude with him. 

In America, the best model yet for the first woman president 
can be found among the Texas feminists, notably Governor Ann 
Richards. East Coast feminists, like Gloria Steinem, who created the 
smug, superior feminist smirk (done to an unctuous turn by NOW 
president Patricia Ireland), have failed to produce a credible persona 
for national leadership, partly because of their juvenile, jeering at- 
titude toward men and masculinity. The irony is that the legal and 
media world inhabited by Steinem and her coterie is filled with 
bookish white-collar men who are the only ones in the world who 
actually listen to feminist rhetoric and can be guilt-tripped into trying 
to obey it. The younger feminists have not done much better. Though 
in their thirties, Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf seem determined to 
cling to perpetual girlhood. Faludi is the Mary Tyler Moore of 
feminism ("Geeee, Mr. Grant!"), nice but easily flustered and cowed 
in public. These are bobbysoxer Fifties personae, a docile, good- 
daughter style also detectable in those spoiled, bland yuppies, the 
failed Clinton nominees, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood. 

In Texas, unlike the urban Northeast, men are men. Women 
politicians in that state have the toughness and grit to handle men 
at their most macho. Southern women, particularly those of the 
plantation-belt "iron magnolia" school, are able to get what they 
want and still retain their gracious femininity. Underneath the public 
persona of Ann Richards, like that of Attorney General Janet Reno, 
who has the mannish bearing of an admiral and whose Floridian 
mother wrestled alligators, one can still feel the American pioneer 
spirit. At moments, Richards and Reno seem like robust farm women 
(cf. brusque, hearty Marjorie Main in The Women). In that state of 
longhorn cattle, pit barbecue, and universal football, the Texas fem- 
inists have a vigorous physicality completely missing from the tame, 
sheltered, word-centered world of the Steinem politburo. 



Ancient Roman matrons, with their fidelity to clan and state, 
had more gravitas than today's women politicians and professionals. 
We need to rethink and reappropriate the old personae of grande 
dame and dragon lady for new use today. Hanging on the walls of 
the Seven Sisters, the elite women's colleges of the Northeast, are 
stunning portraits of the early presidents and faculty, whose air of 
distinction recalls a period in feminism when women accepted, and 
were determined to match, the highest levels of male achievement. 
I call them the "battle-ax maiden ladies," and they remain my 

Another of my role models is St. Teresa of Avila {not that tender 
teen, St. Therese of Lisieux, cradling her dainty roses). Obscure 
until her flaming forties, Teresa fought with the bishops and sin- 
glehandedly reformed the Spanish convents. She was an irascible, 
hands-on mystic. My American patron saint is Annie Oakley, the 
real-life sharpshooter known around the world from her tours with 
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. This great home-grown persona 
demonstrates that the best argument for women in combat is com- 
bative women. 

My prescription for women entering the war zone of the profes- 
sions: study football. It is a classic textbook of the strategies and 
controlled aggression of the ever-hostile workplace. A chapter in the 
second volume of Sexual Personae analyzes the pagan motifs of football, 
which is not only my favorite sport but my only real religion. Indeed, 
I credit my success in attacking the academic and feminist estab- 
lishment to a lifetime mania for football, which provides intricate 
patterns of offense and defense, as well as impetus for hard hits and 
my trademark open-field tackling. Women who want to remake the 
future should look for guidance not to substitute parent figures but 
to the brash assertions of pagan sport. 

4. sex power: prostitution, 
stripping, pornography 

The bourgeois limitations in feminist theory are clearly dem- 
onstrated by its difficulty in dealing with prostitution, which is in- 
terpreted solely in outworn terms of victimization. That is, feminists 
profess solidarity with the "sex workers" themselves but denounce 



prostitution as a system of male exploitation and enslavement. I 
protest this trivializing of the world's oldest profession. I respect and 
honor the prostitute, ruler of the sexual realm, which men must pay 
to enter. In reducing prostitutes to pitiable charity cases in need of 
their help, middle-class feminists are guilty of arrogance, conceit, 
and prudery. 

An early admirer of Sexual Personae who came to Philadelphia 
to interview me was Tracy Quan, a working prostitute and activist 
with P.O.N.Y. (Prostitutes of New York), who supported the stand 
I had taken and described her violent fights with the doctrinaire 
feminists overrunning the world prostitute movement. I maintained, 
and Quan agreed, that the popular portrait of the hapless single 
mother forced into prostitution by poverty or a vicious pimp was a 
sentimental exaggeration. Psychologists were ushering ex-prostitutes 
onto television programs to make tearful recantations of their former 
careers and to testify that prostitutes hated their work and were 
merely misguided victims of child abuse. Listening to the radio at 
home, I heard Dr. Joyce Brothers confidently proclaim, "There 
are no happy prostitutes" — to which I angrily blurted aloud, "Dr. 
Brothers, there are no happy therapists!" 

Moralism and ignorance are responsible for the constant ste- 
reotyping of prostitutes by their lowest common denominator — the 
sick, strung-out addicts, crouched on city stoops, who turn tricks 
for drug money. Every profession (including the academic) has its 
bums, cheats, and ne'er-do-wells. The most successful prostitutes in 
history have been invisible. That invisibility was produced by their 
high intelligence, which gives them the power to perceive, and 
move freely but undetected within, the social frame. The prostitute 
is a superb analyst, not only in evading the law but in intuiting the 
unique constellation of convention and fantasy that produces a 
stranger's orgasm. She lives by her wits as much as her body. She 
is psychologist, actor, and dancer, a performance artist of hyper- 
developed sexual imagination. And she is shrewd entrepreneur and 
businesswoman: the madams of brothels, along with medieval ab- 
besses, were the first female managers. 

The power of ancient harlots, ancestors of Renaissance cour- 
tesans and chic modern call-girls, is suggested in The Egyptian (1954), 
the film of Mika Waltari's novel about the reign of Akhnaten and 


Xcfcrtiti. For assignations with a hypnotically beautiful Babylonian 
temptress, the brilliant young Egyptian doctor surrenders his wealth, 
his house, his precious medical instruments, and finally, most shock- 
ingly, the embalming of his parents' bodies for the afterlife. When 
he has nothing left, her servants slam the door in his face. The 
Egyptian shows the prostitute as a sexual adept of magical skill and 
accurately documents men's excruciating obsession with and sub- 
ordination to women. 

Temple prostitution seems to have occurred in the ancient Near 
East, in association with goddess cults. In the Christian era, typified 
by St. Augustine's condemnation of Cybele and her mutilating sac- 
rificial rites, the prostitute remains our point of contact with re- 
pressed pagan nature. We completely lack the fusion of sexual and 
sacred found in Hinduism, notably the Tantric school, where ini- 
tiation in erotic arts by a sexually experienced woman is considered 
a form of spiritual instruction. Christianity splits woman into divided 
halves: Mary, the Holy Mother, and Mary Magdalene, the whore. 
Maternity and sexuality don't mix well in our tradition, with its 
transcendent, earth-shunning deity. In the Madonna-whore com- 
plex, which particularly affects Latin Catholics (e.g., Frank Sinatra), 
a man loses sexual interest in his wife when she becomes pregnant, 
activating memories of his sainted mother. The home becomes a 
shrine, and the man seeks sexual satisfaction elsewhere with whores, 
"bimbos," defensively minimized to evade woman's hegemony. 

When they posit prostitutes as lost souls to be saved from satanic 
male clutches, feminists are collaborating in the systematic deni- 
gration of a class of women who, under dangerous conditions, 
perform a necessary social service. Governments that try to ban 
prostitution never succeed for long. Prostitution is always reinvented 
and flourishes, underground or in light of day. During the Sixties 
sexual revolution, I believed that, in a reformed future, prostitution 
would be unnecessary, since emancipated female desire would ex- 
pand to meet men's needs. However, over time, I realized that 
sexuality can never be fully contained within social forms and that 
the old double standard was no misogynous fiction: promiscuity is 
risky to the health of procreative woman and her fetus. Hence the 
prostitute has come to symbolize for me the ultimate liberated 



woman, who lives on the edge and whose sexuality belongs to no 

Often over the past decade, as I arrive at 8 a.m. at my classroom 
building on South Broad Street in Center City, I have been stunned 
to encounter a working whore sashaying cheerfully along in full 
brazen regalia — red-leather bolero jacket and bulging halter, white- 
leather or lavender-suede thigh-high boots, black-spangle or gold- 
lame micro-miniskirt with no underwear and bare buttocks. White, 
black, or Latina, she dominates the street for two blocks in every 
direction. You can see the stir, as people hurrying to work break 
step, turn, or furtively stare. Working-class men brashly hail her in 
humorous admiration; middle-class men are startled, embarrassed, 
but fascinated; middle-class women, uneasily clutching their attache 
cases, are frozen, blank, hostile. 

Of the great sexual personae I have seen in my lifetime, Phil- 
adelphia prostitutes rank very high. They are fearless and aggressive, 
waving down businessmen in sedans or bringing traffic to a halt as 
they jaw with taxi drivers. They rule the street. "Pagan goddess!" 
I want to call out, as I sidle reverently by. Not only are these women 
not victims, they are among the strongest and most formidable 
women on the planet. They exist in the harshest reality, but they 
laugh and bring beauty out of it. For me, they are heroines of outlaw 

Prostitution should be decriminalized. My libertarian position 
is that government may not under any circumstances intervene in 
consensual private behavior. Thus, despite their damage to my gen- 
eration, I support the legalization of drugs, consistent with current 
regulation of alcohol. And I would argue for the absolute right to 
homosexual sodomy. It is reasonable, however, to ask that sex acts 
remain private and that they not visibly occur in shared public spaces 
like streets and parks — the latter a favorite haunt of gay men, to 
the despair of neighbors. Neither Judeo-Christian nor pagan may 
dominate common ground. 

Solicitation for sex should be tolerated and treated exactly like 
the vending of any commercial product: that is, pedestrians have 
the right not to be crowded, touched, or fondled by salesmen, ped- 
dlers, or whores. Police may keep building entrances unobstructed, 



guarantee a clear zone around schools and churches, and control 
noisy late-night auto traffic cruising in residential neighborhoods. 
But harassment of whores and their clients must cease. Government 
should concern itself only with public health matters: hence free 
testing and treatment of venereal disease, without censoriousness, 
should be required of prostitutes working in licensed brothels. 

Mainstream feminist propaganda claims that prostitutes must 
"do whatever men want." This is true only of the amateurish and 
weak-willed. Most professional prostitutes are in complete charge of 
the erotic encounter and do nothing they don't want. Things can 
certainly go wrong, with painful or fatal results — as is also the 
experience of gay men, whose sexual adventurousness over the cen- 
turies has often cost them their lives. Stranger sex will never be risk- 
free; it is just as challenging an exploration of hazardous nature 
as cliff-climbing, sailing, car racing, big-game hunting, bungee- 
jumping, hang-gliding, or parachuting. The thrill is partly due to 
the nearness of disaster or death. 

The prostitutes on window display in Amsterdam's famous red- 
light district, with their opulent fleshiness, earthy practicality, and 
bawdy sang-froid, impressed me enormously when I first saw them 
in 1969, as a graduate student still optimistic about bringing so- 
phisticated European sexual values to puritan America. By 1993, 
when I visited Amsterdam again, the scene had changed: it is now 
less homey and, influenced by the dance revolution in stripping, 
more theatrical. The whores are dazzlingly multicultural. A con- 
ventional feminist analysis would see these women writhing and 
beckoning in glass cubicles as degradingly accessible cream pastries 
in a male automat. But I see, as always, pure female power. The 
men shopping in the street cluster together to bolster their confi- 
dence; most are awkward, uncertain, abashed. The young, lithe 
Thai whores boldly flaunt their breasts and buttocks in skinny 
white bikinis, blazing under violet Day-glo light. They are a pagan 
epiphany, apparitions of supreme sexual beauty. Jerusalem has 
never vanquished Babylon. 

A luminous moment of this kind occurred in Naples in 1984, 
when I was walking with family friends near the bay late at night. 
A tall, striking, raven-haired whore in a tight white dress, who may 
or may not have been a transvestite, was bantering with a truck 



driver, her long leg perched raffishly on the running board. Spotting 
the flowing red hair of a mature married woman in our party, she 
grinned wickedly and yelled out, in a rich, gravelly, flirtatious voice, 
"Ciao, rossa!" ("Hey, redhead!") Everyone stared stonily ahead and 
kept moving. The group as a whole, with its middle-class American 
propriety, was not as powerful as this one extraordinary being, whose 
perverse, worldly consciousness seemed to take in and dominate the 
entire waterfront. This was her territory; we were the intruders. 
Lagging behind, I smiled conspiratorially and nodded back in hom- 
age. She was my confederate. Her humor and vitality were like those 
of Caravaggio's lewd urchins. I had an eerie sense of the Neapolitan 
side of my heritage (my father's people were from the inland towns 
of Benevento, Avellino, and Caserta), the stream of sensuality and 
decadence going back to Pompeii and ancient Capri, where the 
emperor Tiberius had his villa. 

Strippers are not prostitutes, as they firmly point out. I first 
became aware of their free-lance lifestyle while I was teaching at 
Bennington in the Seventies, when several of my women students 
earned tuition money by dancing in topless bars in metropolitan 
New York and New Jersey. I questioned them closely and read their 
research projects compiling interviews with their fellow workers. The 
other dancers were often enterprising single mothers whose expe- 
riences depended on the quality of the clubs, the best of which 
protected women employees by escorting them to their cars and 
squelching overeager customers. At worst, the dancers had to fight 
off the managers themselves, but this was usually considered an 
occupational hazard that plucky women could handle. 

Why do so many men want to see women undress? I have written 
about the pagan origins of striptease, the ritual unveiling of a body 
that will always remain mysterious because of the inner darkness of 
the womb, from which we all came. Sexual exhibitionism plays a 
part in most nature cults, such as Hinduism. My interest in this 
subject dates from a New York State Fair in Syracuse in the late 
Fifties, when I was around ten. A midway barker introduced a belly 
dancer, who undulated from a tent and struck a pose at one end of 
the platform. A trance came over me. I bolted from my startled 
family and darted through the dense male crowd to stare up at her 
in stupefied wonder. My parents told the story for years, since the 



dancer, used to women giving her a wide berth, eyed me back with 
alarmed perplexity. I'm sure I looked like a moron, with mouth 
agape and eyes like saucers. 

Sexual dancing, which handsome boys also do for gay men, is 
a great art form with ancient roots. I reject feminist cant about the 
"male gaze," which supposedly renders passive and inert everything 
it touches. As I maintained in my first book, sexual objectification 
is characteristically human and indistinguishable from the art im- 
pulse. There is nothing degrading in the display of any part of the 
human body. Those embarrassed or offended by erotic dancing are 
the ones with the problem: their natural responses have been cur- 
tailed by ideology, religious or feminist. The early Christian church 
forbade dancing because of its pagan associations and its very real 
incitement to lust. 

In modern times, dance has become progressively more sexually 
explicit, as the performers of classical ballet, once aristocrats of the 
ancien regime, shed clothing from the nineteenth century on. The calf- 
length ballerina's skirt, for example, became the tutu, just a fringe 
of chiffon at the hips. The molded Renaissance tights of male dancers 
accent bulging genitals and buttocks. Half the appeal of today's 
classical ballet productions, I would argue, is their ravishing semi- 
nudity. It's striptease in the name of high art. Modern dance, from 
the Greek-inspired free movement and bare feet of Isadora Duncan 
to the tribal pelvic thrusts and spasmodic contractions of Martha 
Graham, has always been sexually revolutionary. Jazz dancing is 
also boldly erotic, thanks to Bob Fosse's appropriation of burlesque 
moves, which he witnessed as a child in the demimondaine. 

Since the Twenties, popular dance has been sexualized by wave 
after wave of African and Latin (really Afro-Caribbean) influences. 
As Eldridge Cleaver said in Soul on Ice, the 1960 twist craze activated 
the dead white pelvis, in an early skirmish of the sexual revolution. 
Grinding, provocative wiggles and shimmies are now the everyday 
recreational language of the white middle class. The line between 
striptease and respectable social dancing has blurred. Hence the 
recent evolution toward total nudity in topless clubs. Today, straight 
or gay men, tucking tribute bills into a woman's garter belt or a 
guy's motorcycle boot, can inspect the sexual terrain at microscopic 



proximity. Unescorted female customers are still disappointingly 
rare, as I can report from my own midnight forays. 

In virtually all venues, the nude dancer is in total control of the 
stage and audience. The feminist scenario of a meat rack of ribs and 
haunches priced and fingered by reeking buffoons is another hys- 
terical projection. Hard as it may be to believe, men in strip clubs 
admire what they see and are even awed by it. They gather round 
the women to warm themselves, as if the stage were a bonfire on a 
medieval winter's night. The dancers exert a magnetic force. The 
men don't know exactly why they must come there, but they sense 
that their ordinary lives and official religion don't fulfill their longings 
or answer all their questions. To reduce these ritual visitations to a 
matter of mechanical masturbation is unintelligent and unimagin- 
ative. The nude dancer can never be captured or completely known. 
She teases and eludes, like the female principle itself. 

Extreme forms of sexual expression can only be understood 
through a sympathetic study of pornography, one of the most con- 
troversial issues in feminism. For more than fifteen years, the syllabi 
and reserve reading shelves of women's studies courses have been 
dominated by two sex-killing styles, the anti-art puritanism of the 
Catharine MacKinnon school and the word-obsessed, labyrinthine 
abstraction of Lacanian analysis. The pro-sex wing of feminism was 
virtually invisible until very recently, for two reasons. First, its ad- 
herents outside academe wrote fiction or journalism and never pro- 
duced major theoretical statements anywhere near MacKinnon's 
level of argument. Second, its adherents inside academe shut them- 
selves off in jargon-spouting conferences, which had no cultural im- 
pact or purpose beyond personal careerism. Free-speech feminists 
mobilized to defeat MacKinnon-inspired anti-porn statutes in Min- 
neapolis and Indianapolis but then fell back into torpor, abandoning 
academe to the virulent ideologues, who seized administrative power 
in campus-life issues. 

The pro-sex feminists were never able to stop MacKinnon, 
whose reputation rose steadily until she was canonized in a dis- 
gracefully uncritical cover story of The New York Times Magazine in 
October 1991. During the Clarence Thomas hearings that year, she 
was everywhere in the media. Even public radio and television were 



hopelessly biased, trotting out dozens of radical and establishment 
feminists pushing one party line. The sexual harassment crisis was 
the Waterloo of the pro-sex feminists, who lost all perspective and 
collapsed into rampant MacKinnonism. Not one leading feminist 
voice but mine challenged the sentimental Anita Hill groupthink or 
the creeping fascism of the date-rape and sexual harassment hysteria. 
Nor did any critique of MacKinnon gain ground until I called her 
a "totalitarian" and exposed the drastically limited assumptions in 
her cultural worldview. In late 1993, the free-speech feminists fi- 
nally — and far too late — launched a searing personal attack on 
MacKinnon (over her gross exploitation of the Bosnian rapes) in 
central feminist territory, Ms. magazine. 

My skepticism about the courage and sincerity of the pro-sex 
feminists was confirmed by my own experience with them. The 
refusal or inability of the academic feminists to engage my work has 
eloquently demonstrated their insularity and hypocrisy. Of the best- 
known names outside academe, only film director Monika Treut and 
performance artist Annie Sprinkle took an interest in or publicly 
supported me and my views. Treut's avant-garde thinking was 
shaped by the greater cosmopolitanism of Europe, while Sprinkle's 
iconoclastic comedy draws on her intimate knowledge of the worlds 
of prostitution and stripping, which I celebrate. The parochialism 
and conventionalism in even the most ostensibly radical feminist 
views of sexuality were shown by Pat Califia's long silence about 
and then open attack on me, as well as by Susie Bright's catty 
impugning of my positions and right to speak. The latter's cliquish 
removal from the general culture was evident in her public dismissal 
of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose contributions to sex education of 
the American mass audience have been enormous. 

A major problem with pro-sex feminism has been its failure to 
embrace the men's magazines, without which no theory of sexuality 
will ever be complete. I have gone out of my way to publish in and 
endorse Playboy and Penthouse, which have been vilified by both main- 
stream and anti-porn feminists, as well as by mainstream members 
of NOW. I love the irony of bringing contemporary feminism full 
circle, back to where Gloria Steinem made her name by infiltrating 
a Playboy Club. In the Eighties, feminists and religious conservatives 
pressured convenience stores and drugstore chains to ban the men's 



magazines. This has led to a massive cultural ignorance on the part 
of feminists, inside and outside academe, about what is actually in 
those magazines. 

Idiotic statements like "Pornography degrades women" or "Por- 
nography is the subordination of women" are only credible if you 
never look at pornography. Preachers, senators, and feminist zealots 
carry on about materials they have no direct contact with. They 
usually rely on a few selectively culled inflammatory examples that 
bear little resemblance to the porn market as a whole. Most por- 
nography shows women in as many dominant as subordinate pos- 
tures, with the latter usually steamily consensual. Specialty mail 
services can provide nonconsensual sadomasochistic scenarios, but 
they are difficult to find, except in the vast underground of cartoon 
art, so subversively individualistic that it has thus far escaped the 
feminist thought police. Cartoons in R. Crumb's fabled Sixties style 
show the comic, raging id uncensored. Despite hundreds of studies, 
the cause-and-effect relationship between pornography and violence 
has never been satisfactorily proved. Pornography is a self-enclosed 
world of pure imagination. Feminist claims that porn actresses are 
coerced and abused are wildly exaggerated and usually based on 
one or two atypical tales. 

Feminist anti-porn discourse virtually always ignores the gi- 
gantic gay male porn industry, since any mention of the latter would 
bring crashing to the ground the absurd argument that pornography 
is by definition the subordination of women. I have learned an 
enormous amount from gay porn, which a few lesbians have com- 
mendabiy tried to imitate but not with sterling success. The greatest 
erotic images of women remain those created by male artists and 
photographers, from Botticelli, Titian, Ingres, and Courbet to Rich- 
ard Avedon and Helmut Newton. The advertising pages of gay 
newspapers are adorned with stunning icons of gorgeous male nudes, 
for which I have yet to see an impressive lesbian equivalent. Men, 
gay or straight, can get beauty and lewdness into one image. Women 
are forever softening, censoring, politicizing. 

Unlike the art-illiterate anti-porn fanatics, gay men glory in 
every angle on the sexual body, no matter how contorted. A sleek, 
pretty boy in cowboy boots spreading his buttocks for an up-close 
glimpse of his pink anus is an alluring staple of gay magazines. In 


that world, everyone knows this splendid creature is victor, not slave. 
Sexual power defies or reverses rigid political categories. Feminists 
who see the bare-all, pubic "beaver shot'* as a paradigm of women's 
historical oppression are cursed with the burden of their own pe- 
destrian prejudices. Until we solve the mystery of sexuality, contem- 
plation of our kaleidoscopic genitalia — from glossy and nubile to 
lank and withered — will remain an interesting and important ex- 
ercise in human self-discovery. 

Since paganism must give its due to Judeo-Christianity, we 
should respect the desire of the religious not to be assaulted with 
nude images in public spaces. Thus sex magazines should be freely 
available at newsstands but not necessarily displayed on them. 
Sealed plastic or paper sleeves don't seem unreasonable to me, 
though I would like opponents and proponents of pornography to 
be able to leaf through magazines to stay informed. Since television 
is also a public space, it is fair to ask, but not require, that stations 
schedule adult programming during late-night hours, when parents 
can best supervise their children. Unlike Frank Zappa, I feel that 
a ratings system is merely informational and infringes on no one's 
right to free speech. On the contrary, an "X" designation positively 
helps the lascivious to locate juicy material in every medium. The 
music industry must not confuse free speech rights with lucrative 
placement of product in suburban malls. 

Far from poisoning the mind, pornography shows the deepest 
truth about sexuality, stripped of romantic veneer. No one can claim 
to be an expert in gender studies who is uncomfortable with por- 
nography, which focuses on our primal identity, our rude and crude 
animality. Porn dreams of eternal fires of desire, without fatigue, 
incapacity, aging, or death. What feminists denounce as woman's 
humiliating total accessibility in porn is actually her elevation to 
high priestess of a pagan paradise garden, where the body has be- 
come a bountiful fruit tree and where growth and harvest are si- 
multaneous. "Dirt" is contamination to the Christian but fertile loam 
to the pagan. The most squalid images in porn are shock devices to 
break down bourgeois norms of decorum, reserve, and tidiness. The 
Dionysian body fluids, fully released to coat every gleaming surface, 
return us to the full-body sensuality of the infant condition. In 
crowded orgy tableaux, like those on Hindu temples, matter and 



energy melt. In the cave spaces of porn, camera lights are torches 
of the Eleusinian Mysteries, giving us flashes of nature's secrets. 

Gay men appreciate pornography as I do because they accept 
the Hellenic principle that some people are born more beautiful than 
others. Generic granola feminists are likely to call this "lookism" — 
an offense against equality. I take the Wildean view that equality 
is a moral imperative in politics but that the arts will always be 
governed by the elitism of talent and the tyranny of appearance. 
Pornography's total exposure of ripe flesh, its dynamic of vigor and 
vitality, is animated by the cruel pre-Christian idolatry of beauty 
and strength. 

Pornography is art, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dis- 
sonant. Its glut and glitter are a Babylonian excess. Modern 
middle-class women cannot bear the thought that their hard-won 
professional achievements can be outweighed in an instant by a 
young hussy flashing a little tits and ass. But the gods have given 
her power, and we must welcome it. Pornography forces a radical 
reassessment of sexual value, nature's bequest and our tarnished 


Homosexuality may be the key to understanding the whole of 
human sexuality. No subject cuts in so many directions into psy- 
chology, sociology, history, and morality. The incidence, as well as 
visibility, of homosexuality has certainly increased in the Western 
world in the past twenty-five years. But discussion of it rapidly 
became overpoliticized after the Stonewall rebellion of 1969, which 
began the gay liberation movement. Viewpoints polarized: people 
were labeled pro-gay or anti-gay, with little room in between. For 
the past decade, the situation has been out of control: responsible 
scholarship is impossible when rational discourse is being policed 
by storm troopers, in this case gay activists, who have the absolutism 
of all fanatics in claiming sole access to the truth. 

Stonewall was an act of resistance to police authority by multi- 
racial drag queens mourning the death of Judy Garland, long div- 
inized by gays. Therefore Stonewall had a cultural meaning beyond 
the political: it was a pagan insurrection by the reborn transvestite 


priests of Cybele. But the Seventies gay scene immediately turned 
away from the drag spirit that gave birth to it: a macho clone look 
took over the men's bars, and queens were scorned as an embar- 
rassing reminder of a time when gayness meant effeminacy. Para- 
doxically, drag was more acceptable in heterosexual rock music, 
then in its decadent sci-fi phase, typified by Alice Cooper, Kiss, and 
David Bowie, whose roots, via the New York Dolls, were in Andy 
Warhol's charismatic Superstars, whom I worshiped. 

From Stonewall to the first AIDS alert was only twelve short 
years. In the Eighties and early Nineties, displaced anxiety over the 
horror of AIDS turned gay activists into rampaging nihilists and 
monomaniacs, who dishonestly blamed the disease on the govern- 
ment and trampled on the rights of the gay majority, and whose 
errors of judgment materially aided the rise and consolidation of the 
far right. AIDS did not appear out of nowhere. It was a direct result 
of the sexual revolution, which my generation unleashed with the 
best intentions, but whose worst effects were to be suffered primarily 
by gay men. In the West, despite much propaganda to the contrary, 
AIDS is a gay disease and will remain one for the foreseeable future. 

That is, of all those stricken with AIDS throughout the world — 
whether through drug use, blood transfusion, or prenatal or het- 
erosexual transmission — no other group has experienced it so 
uniquely as a collective spiritual crisis or as a traumatic assault upon 
personal identity. The newness of the disease, the long delay of 
symptoms after infection, the rapid speed of degeneration (syphilis 
could take a lifetime) were shocking. Medicine and science had 
become so advanced that gay men, heady after Stonewall, were 
caught up in the arrogant Western confidence in free will and self- 
determination. And without the fear of pregnancy that hovers over 
heterosexual liaisons, homosexuality had no inherent biological con- 
trols; its use of the body seemed unlimited. Came the apocalypse: 
AIDS is a systems breakdown of a body that has lost its defenses 
against nature. The ugliness and premature aging of this wasting 
disease were especially painful and grotesque in view of gay men's 
historic idealization of youth and beauty. 

The gargantuan promiscuity of the Seventies gay male world 
was a pagan phenomenon, unequaled in scale since the Roman 
empire. Its joyful, perilous excess was a response to the long suppres- 



sion of homosexual behavior and expression following the trial and 
conviction of Oscar Wilde in 1895. Wilde, a Hellenophile, was to 
relapse into Christian morality in prison, but his uncompromising 
aestheticism lingered on in the underground sensibility of gay men, 
right up to Stonewall. The masculine cultism of the Seventies bar 
scene was laudable in view of feminism's bitter assault on the very 
notion of masculinity, building at that moment. However, ancient 
Greek idealizations of the athletic male form were always grounded 
in a larger context of both aesthetics and religion. And, it must be 
remembered, Athenian boy-lovers always married and never stopped 
honoring female divinities. 

The twentieth century has seen two holocausts — one by politics 
and one by nature. The massacre of gay men has had and will 
continue to have devastating consequences in the worlds of art and 
fashion, where gays have exercised enormous, often invisible influ- 
ence as tastemakers. But the destruction began from within. I believe 
that the shocking toll of AIDS on gay men in the West was partly 
due to their Seventies delusionalism that a world without women 
was possible. All-male energies, unbalanced and ravenous, literally 
tore the body apart. 

When he refused to sacrifice to Aphrodite, Hippolytus was de- 
stroyed — dragged to death by his own horses (i.e., sexual impulses), 
spooked by a chthonian monster from the sea. No eroticism can be 
complete that denies the power of the female principle, which is 
nature itself, what Hinduism calls the cycle of birth and death. Pre- 
Stonewall gay culture was complete. Not only did lesbians and gay 
men, due to the paucity of gay bars, socialize more regularly, but 
gay men were bound together by a grandiose international aesthetic 
that spectacularly glamourized women — chiefly Hollywood stars 
and opera divas (recently documented by Wayne Koestenbaum). 
Female impersonation, as campy nightclub entertainment, flour- 
ished. For centuries, gay aesthetes — the brilliant makeup artists, 
hair stylists, and couturiers — have shaped and enhanced women's 
sexual image. They accurately saw and hugely increased women's 
power over men — even as they refused to yield to it in their personal 
erotic lives. 

The post-Stonewall decade, rejecting drag queens and closing 
the doors of the orgiastic men's bars to women, created a paradise 



of pleasure that collapsed into the hell of AIDS. Is obsessive mono- 
sexuality really a solution to the libidinal limitations of socially en- 
forced heterosexuality? A gay versus straight opposition simply 
perpetuates a false dualism and guarantees the oppression of gay 
men, who will always lose that conflict and, because of their vul- 
nerability when cruising, will pay with their blood in the streets. 
Surely the real revolution is to establish the fluid continuum of 
human sexuality and to win acceptance from heterosexuals of the 
presence of pleasure-promising homosexual impulses in themselves. 

The gay activist establishment has been stupid and narrow in 
the way it has conducted its civil rights campaign. An authentically 
Sixties libertarian vision would argue for the protection of all non- 
conformist behavior, to which homosexual love is just a subset. There 
is no gay leader remotely near the stature of Martin Luther King, 
because black activism has drawn on the profound spiritual tradi- 
tions of the church, to which gay political rhetoric is childishly 
hostile. Activists have disrupted church services in New York and 
Philadelphia (flinging the Communion host on the floor; throwing 
condoms at and striking the archbishop conducting a Mass for the 
AIDS dead). Shrilly self-interested and doctrinaire, gay activism is 
completely lacking in philosophical perspective. Its sorrow became 
the only sorrow, its disease the only disease. 

The parallel claimed by gay leaders between blacks and gays 
as oppressed minorities has always been questionable, and some 
African-Americans have angrily rejected it. Since the argument that 
gays are a distinct class, deserving special protection against dis- 
crimination, is based on this premise, the controversy over issues 
like Colorado's Amendment 2 (passed in 1992) is confused and 
simplistic, with knee-jerk responses of outrage expected of all loyal 
gays. But discrimination against skin color is not wholly comparable 
to the complicated resistance of virtually all societies in history to 
open homosexuality, which involves thorny questions of morality 
and psychology. Most gays can "pass" whenever they want — an 
option available to few blacks. 

Homosexuality is not "normal." On the contrary, it is a chal- 
lenge to the norm; therein rests its eternally revolutionary character. 
Note I do not call it a challenge to the idea of a norm. Queer the- 
orists — that wizened crew of flimflamming free-loaders — have tried 



to take the poststructuralist tack of claiming that there is no norm, 
since everything is relative and contingent. This is the kind of silly 
bind that word-obsessed people get into when they are deaf, dumb, 
and blind to the outside world. Nature exists, whether academics 
like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single, relentless rule. 
That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction. 
Penis fits vagina: no fancy linguistic game-playing can change that 
biologic fact. 

However, my libertarian view, here as in regard to abortion, is 
that we have not only the right but the obligation to defy nature's 
tyranny. The highest human identity consists precisely in such as- 
sertions of freedom against material limitation. Gays are heroes and 
martyrs who have given their lives in the greatest war of them all. 
Fate, not God, has given us this flesh. We have absolute claim to 
our bodies and may do with them as we see fit. To develop and 
expand our sensory, responses is a pagan strategy, reverent in its 
own way toward nature. Homosexual potential is in everyone, and 
evidence suggests that under the right circumstances it will out. But 
the instinctual imperative to mate is also in all of us. 

Given the intense hormonal surge of puberty, the total absence 
of adult heterosexual desire is neither normal nor natural, and it 
requires explanation. Gay activists are guilty of Stalinist disinfor- 
mation when they assert that homosexuality is no different than and 
equivalent to heterosexuality, and that anus and vagina are inter- 
changeable, except for our political conditioning to the contrary. 
Toleration of dissenting behavior, which I am calling for, does not 
necessarily mean approval by society. Pagan and Judeo-Christian 
will never, and should never, agree. Disapproval is not "ignorance" 
or "bigotry" — gay activists' tiresome crutch terms — when it is mo- 
tivated by principle. Similarly, there are legitimate medical questions 
about the safety and sanitation of tissue-rupturing anal sex, even 
though the latter belongs, in my view, to the private realm outside 
government control. 

Since Romanticism, sexuality has been asked to bear too much 
of the burden of identity, formerly supplied by affiliation to religion, 
nation, or clan. Recreational sex has expanded in importance, so 
that it is now a substitute for other forms of communication. Between 
intimates, who may not be capable or desirous of procreation, sex 



permits revelatory descent to primal levels of nonverbal experience. 
It emotionally reawakens and heals the "family romance" of our 
personal biography. Between strangers, sex can have a ritual char- 
acter. It is an act of pagan homage to some archetypal reality, outside 
the social frame. The reveler in pure beauty is pillager but also 

Here is where gay men have distinguished themselves. The ide- 
alism of the Seventies gay bacchanalia lay in its glorification of the 
masculine, which throughout history has striven to be free of female 
dominance and, in the process, made the great breakthroughs in 
art and technology. But as politics began to take over gay as well 
as feminist discourse, psychology dropped away. When questions 
ceased to be asked about the origins of homosexuality, woman was 
eliminated from the picture, with disastrous consequences for men 
unaccustomed to custodianship of their bodies. Homosexual exper- 
imentation will naturally occur whenever social or moral barriers 
are removed. Homosexual acts have been an institutionalized part 
of rites of passage in some tribal cultures, but significantly only when 
the warrior code of violent masculine action is present as a corrective. 
Exclusive homosexual relations among adults have never been sanc- 
tioned before modern times. Their recent appearance seems to me 
directly connected to the crisis in sex roles after the industrial rev- 

Gay men are mythmakers, poetically re-creating a masculinity 
that has been culturally lost, but they are also fleeing a female power 
that has become frustrated and all-consuming. Again we must re- 
consider that pivotal transition from the extended to the nuclear 
family, which has isolated incomplete parents with their incomplete 
children. There may indeed be a genetic component predisposing 
some people toward homosexuality, but social factors in childhood 
play an enormous role in determining whether that tendency man- 
ifests itself or not. Parents are not specifically to blame, insofar as 
they themselves are affected by historical forces of disintegration. 
But the family matrix is central to the sexual story. 

No one is "born gay." The idea is ridiculous, but it is symp- 
tomatic of our overpoliticized climate that such assertions are given 
instant credence by gay activists and their media partisans. I think 
what gay men are remembering is that they were born different. Here 



is where my personal observation may dovetail with Simon LeVay's 
hypothesis, based on admittedly fragmentary evidence, about the 
enlarged hypothalamus in the brains of a small group of gay men 
who died of AIDS. LeVay observed that in size the gland resembled 
that of women rather than heterosexual men, but whether this char- 
acteristic was congenital or the effect of disease or homosexual prac- 
tice itself was inconclusive. 

Media reports, manipulated by gay activists, trumpeted that 
LeVay, despite his careful qualifiers, had incontrovertibly estab- 
lished that gay people were born that way and that moral opposition 
to gayness would hence cease, since homosexuality is not a mat- 
ter of choice. Censored out was the common-sense point that this 
marked an astonishing return to the old idea, discarded after Stone- 
wall, that gay men are like women. Lesbians and gay men are very 
different, and so is the etiology of their homosexuality. Genetic fac- 
tors, if they exist, are probably more likely to appear in men, because 
of the complex process of hormonal masculinization of the fetus 
(always initially female in form), where variations or disturbances 
might occur. But we must be cautious about a theory that defines 
gays as a priori incomplete men. Excessive masculinization of the 
female in utero is a possible explanation for some but certainly not 
most lesbianism, which seems to be primarily produced by social 

My tentative conclusions are based on a lifetime of observation 
and experience in the modern sex wars. As a tomboy in the Fifties, 
I questioned my own gender and had early infatuations with women 
and later purely physical attractions to men, whom I dated inter- 
mittently. One reason I so dislike recent gay activism is that my 
self-identification as a lesbian preceded Stonewall: I was the only 
openly gay person at the Yale Graduate School (1968-72), a candor 
that was professionally costly. That anyone with my aggressive and 
scandalous history could be called ' 'homophobic," as has repeatedly 
been done, shows just how insanely Stalinist gay activism has be- 

As a teacher of twenty-three years, most of which were spent in 
art schools, I have been struck by the rarity, not the frequency, of 
homosexuality. From the start of my media career, I attacked the 
much-touted activist claim that 10 percent of the population is gay — 



which was always a distortion of Kinsey's finding that 10 percent 
had had some homosexual experience over their lifetime. Tracking 
my students, acquaintances, and the world in general, I guessed the 
number hovered at 3 percent, and recent surveys (ranging from 1 
or 2 to 4 percent) have borne this out. 

The 10 percent figure, servilely repeated by the media, was pure 
propaganda, and it made me, as a scholar, despise gay activists for 
their unscrupulous disregard for the truth. Their fibs and fabrica- 
tions continue, now about the still-fragmentary evidence for a genetic 
link to homosexuality and for homosexual behavior among animals. 
The incidence of the latter is enormously exaggerated, in propor- 
tion to conventional procreative pairings throughout nature, and 
acknowledgment is rarely made of the exceptional conditions of en- 
vironmental stress or population pressure under which it occurs. I 
am also unpersuaded, thus far, by multigenerational and twin studies 
that claim to have found evidence for a genetic basis for homosex- 
uality, since the samplings have been weakly constructed and since 
homosexuality was treated as an isolated factor, without broader 
consideration of family dynamics, ethnic history, or personality ty- 

Because of my admiration of and deep friendship with gay men 
(four of whom I have written about elsewhere in this book), I used 
to feel that the old psychoanalytic model was inadequate in describ- 
ing the origins of homosexuality as, essentially, arrested develop- 
ment. But it was true that all my gay male friends had powerful, 
dominating mothers in the prototypical style. In college, I was al- 
ready complaining about my difficulties in meeting or communi- 
cating with lesbians. My mental and imaginative life was absorbed 
more and more with gay men, with whom I felt totally free. To this 
day, the dichotomy remains. I have found few lesbians with whom 
I can discourse for more than five minutes without hitting some 
tiresome barrier of resentment or ideology. My romantic life has 
been spent primarily with bisexual or heterosexual women. I fail to 
see why lesbians must pursue other lesbians; it's illogical. Straight 
women, with their radiant sexual aura, began it all. 

Again and again over the decades, as I did my time, in frustrated 
boredom, in lesbian bars, trying with spectacular lack of success to 
make friends or just converse, I would end up gabbing for hours 



with some stray gay man. He might have dropped out of school at 
fourteen, but he had opinions, tastes, energy, wit. Is there something 
innately different about the gay male brain? And do family factors 
and gay culture reinforce that difference? Answers will not soon be 
coming. But what I do know is that gay male consciousness, as I 
have experienced it, is stunningly expansive and exquisitely precise. 
Gay men have collectively achieved a fusion of intellect, emotion, 
and artistic sensibility that resembles Goethe's or Byron's integration 
of classicism and Romanticism. The intellectual of the twenty-first 
century, trained by an academic system I am trying to reshape, will 
think like a gay man. 

After my career in art schools, I know that artistic talent cannot 
be created, only developed. It is inborn. Similarly, I conclude that 
men are not born gay; they are born with an artistic gene, which 
may or may not lead to an artistic career. More often, they are 
connoisseurs, aesthetes, or simply arch, imperious commentators 
with stringent judgments about everything. (At a Yale party, a gay 
fellow whom I hardly knew muttered waspishly to me about a 
woman across the room, "That dress does nothing for her!") There 
are gay men without such talent, but they are a minority. The 
effeminacy of gay men — which emerges as soon as the macho masks 
drop — is really their artistic sensitivity and rich, vulnerable emo- 

In Sexual Personae, I studied the psychic duality of the artist, who 
combines male and female in the act of creation. It is possible that 
gay men are caught midway between the male and female brains 
and therefore share the best of both. Talent in the visual arts may 
be related to a sensory or perceptual openness, detectable (as re- 
sponsiveness to light and color) in early childhood and perhaps 
related to autism, where the flux of sensations is cognitively uncon- 
trolled. The gay male brain seems to me permanently switched "on." 

Here is my speculative scenario, constructed after teaching and 
advising so many apprentice artists. A sensitive boy is born into a 
family of jocks. He is shy and dreamy from the start. His father is 
uncomfortable with him, and his brothers are harsh and impatient. 
But he is his mother's special favorite, almost from the moment he 
is born. He and she are more alike. Repelled by male roughhousing, 
he is drawn to his mother's and sisters' quietness and delicacy. He 



becomes his mother's confidant against her prosaic husband, a half- 
eroticized relationship that may last a lifetime and block the son 
from adult contacts with women. 

He is fascinated by his mother's rituals of the boudoir, her 
hypnotic focus on the mirror as she applies magic unguents from 
vials of vivid color, like paints and palette. He loves her closet, not 
because he covets her clothes but because they are made of gorgeous, 
sensuous fabrics, patterns, and hues denied men in this post- 
aristocratic age. Later, he feels like an outsider in the schoolyard. 
There is no male bonding; he tries to join in but never fully merges 
with the group. Masculinity is something beautiful but "out there"; 
it is not in him, and he knows he is feigning it. He longs for approval 
from the other boys, and his nascent sexual energies begin to flow 
in that direction, pursuing what he cannot have. He will always be 
hungry for and awed by the masculine, even if and when, through 
bodybuilding or the leather scene, he adopts its accoutrements. 

Thus homosexuality, in my view, is an adaptation, not an inborn 
trait. When they claim they were gay "as far back as I can re- 
member," gay men are remembering their isolation and alienation, 
their differentness, which is a function of their special gifts. Such 
protestations are of little value in any case, since it is unlikely that 
much can be recalled before age three, when sexual orientation may 
already be fixed. Heaven help the American boy born with a talent 
for ballet. In this culture, he is mocked and hounded and never wins 
the respect of masculine men. Yet this desperation deepens his ar- 
tistic insight and expressiveness. Thus gay men create civilization 
by fulfilling the pattern of Coleridge's prophesying, ostracized poet, 
dancing alone with "flashing eyes" and "floating hair." 

Other patterns of homosexual etiology certainly exist, including 
one of hatred toward and revulsion from women. But that ambiv- 
alence may already be built into the story I have sketched, since the 
mother who turns away from her dull spouse to make a subliminally 
incestuous marriage with her sensitive son may be suffocating the 
boy and stunting his development. Indeed, the developmental theory 
of homosexuality, which I rejected in college, returned to haunt me 
because of the misbehavior of ACT UP, a chain of small protest 
groups that I probably would have joined in my youth, since its 
style of Sixties guerrilla theater is my own. ACT UP won substantial 



practical victories in its mobilizations against the political and med- 
ical establishment, but its most crazed extremists also did enormous 
damage to the public image of gay men that will take a generation 
to undo. 

Flashed across the nation's television screens were contorted 
male faces, raging, ranting, bawling like infants — "Me, me, me!" 
What we were seeing in ACT UP's worst tantrums was the disin- 
tegration, under pressure of implacable reality, of the gay male per- 
sona. Horrifyingly exposed were the unevolved emotions just 
beneath the surface. Male authority figures — the disapproving, re- 
jecting father — were blamed for everything. Total attention and an 
instant cure were demanded, even though science had failed to find 
a cure for any virus, even the common cold. It is no coincidence 
that ACT UP never could expand its membership beyond the white 
middle class, with its footstamping sense of entitlement. Civil rights 
demonstrators, anti-war protesters, and those facing death from any 
disease had rarely behaved with such juvenile lack of dignity. 

Meanwhile, more women were dying yearly from breast cancer 
than had succumbed to AIDS in America over a decade. In April 
1991, a monsoon hit Bangladesh and killed 125,000 people over 
one weekend — exactly the number of American AIDS casualties to 
that point. I angrily asked a friend, "Where is the quilt for those 
who died in Bangladesh? Who will go to Bangladesh and find those 
names? What privileges the deaths of so many white middle-class 
gay men?" ACT UP was selfishly selective in what it got angry 

The government's policy of neglect toward AIDS (not so dif- 
ferent from its slow response to service-related chronic diseases and 
terminal cancers among veterans) may have been preferable to the 
alternative — identification and quarantine of the infected, which 
some observers were demanding. Civil liberties won over the public 
health, an ethically problematic choice that I, as a libertarian, sup- 
ported. ACT UP's hysteria made me reconsider those vilified ther- 
apists and ministers who think change of homosexual orientation is 
possible and whose meetings are constantly disrupted by gay agi- 
tators. Is gay identity so fragile that it cannot bear the thought that 
some people may not wish to be gay? The difficulties in changing 
sexual orientation do not spring from its genetic innateness. Sexuality 



is highly fluid, and reversals are theoretically possible. However, 
habit is refractory, once the sensory pathways have been blazed and 
deepened by repetition — a phenomenon obvious in the struggle with 
obesity, smoking, alcoholism, or drug addiction. 

The injustice and impracticality are in trying to "convert" to- 
tally from homosexuality to heterosexuality, an opposition I think 
false. However, helping gays learn how to function heterosexually, 
if they so wish, is a perfectly worthy aim. We should be honest 
enough to consider whether homosexuality may not indeed be a 
pausing at the prepubescent stage when children anxiously band 
together by gender. Indeed, the instantly recognizable house voice 
of many gay men — thin, reedy, and pinched — dates from that pre- 
adult period. But artistic creativity is also a prolonged childhood, 
as the Romantics first observed. Hence the eternal youthfulness of 
gay men, their inquisitiveness and joie de vivre, so different from the 
plodding earnestness of lesbians, laboring in yokes of political cor- 
rectness. When I meet gay men anywhere in the world, there is a 
spontaneity and a spirit of fun and mischief that lesbians seem in- 
capable of. 

A pagan design for living would be a sexual mosaic, a high- 
contrast Greek-key meander pattern. Gay men should confront the 
elements of haphazard choice in their erotic history, which began 
in the confusion, shame, and inarticulateness of childhood. Judeo- 
Christian morality, following the Bible, would call for a renunciation 
of all homosexual behavior. I don't agree. Why shouldn't all avenues 
of pleasure remain open? But it is worthwhile for gays to retrace 
their developmental steps and, if possible, to investigate and resolve 
the burden of love-hate they still carry for the opposite-sex parent. 
Behavior may not change, but self-knowledge — Socrates' motto — 
is a philosophic value in its own right. 

If a gay man wants to marry and sire children, why should he 
be harassed by gay activists accusing him of "self-hatred"? He is 
more mature than they are, for he knows woman's power cannot be 
ignored. And if a married man wants to pursue beautiful young men 
from time to time, why shouldn't he have the same freedom of sexual 
self-determination as husbands who patronize whores? Why must 
he be charged with vacillation or evasion, when his eroticism is the 
most fully developed? If counseling can allow a gay man to respond 


sexually to women, it should be encouraged and applauded, not 
strafed by gay artillery fire of reverse moralism. Heterosexual love, 
as Hindu symbolism dramatizes, is in sync with cosmic forces. Not 
everyone has the stomach for daily war with nature. 

It is much easier for women to live bisexually, since their erotic 
performance is not measured by the unforgiving yardstick of erection 
and ejaculation. Men who shrink from penetration of the female 
body are paralyzed by justifiable apprehension, since they are re- 
turning to our uncanny site of origin. Lingering on the unconscious 
level in every act of heterosexual intercourse are two male terrors: 
that when the penis goes in, it won't come out again; and second 
that as he approaches the womb, a man will, as in a nightmare, be 
sucked back to boyhood and infancy and be reabsorbed into the 
maternal body. 

These fantasies, detectable in the vampire legends of world my- 
thology, have led me to argue that "misogyny" is one of feminism's 
more useless ideas. It is not male hatred of women but male fear of 
woman that is the great universal. Gay activists who spout feminist 
rhetoric are actually the most misogynous, for they love the idea of 
woman as victim, small, passive, and in need of their help. Such 
men, of course, are usually helplessly dominated by imposing 

The sexual segregation of gay bars following Stonewall was bad 
for everyone. The men slid into orgiastic narcissism, and the women 
entombed themselves in a gigantic burrow, the clogged honeypot of 
lesbian feminism. I got along well with pre-Stonewall butches, the 
diesel dykes who had a working-class realism about life. They never 
whined about the awful patriarchy; most of them liked men, and 
men liked them — man to man. They were plainspoken, spunky, and 
self-reliant, with simple military honor. In a crisis, they'd break a 
beer bottle at the neck and vault over the table to grab a guy by 
the throat. Today, vapid bourgeois niceties permeate the sorority- 
house world of white lesbians, even when they doll themselves up 
in black leather. (As a female ex-lover said disgustedly to me about 
the San Francisco scene, "I could be more s&m in a dress!") 

Now that twenty-five years have passed, it's time to admit that 
lesbian feminism has produced only the ghettoization and minia- 
turization of women. No great works of art or intellect have emerged 



from it. On the contrary, it has asphyxiated young women with 
propaganda and stunted their talent by limiting their vision and 
constricting their emotions. Women never grow from the moment 
they enter the lesbian world. Hence one is deafened in bars by the 
juvenile whooping and hollering of packs of lesbians greeting each 
other like screeching teens arriving at a slumber party. Gay men as 
a whole are far more sophisticated in demeanor. In America, gay 
men brunch — where interesting conversation is a sine qua non. Gay 
women are off planning the next softball match. Music in the men's 
bars is pumping, pelvic, and sweatily sexual; there is an edge of 
menace, a darkness or artistic ambiguity. Music in too many wom- 
en's bars is bland, defanged disco, with a monotonous tick-tock beat 
ideal for bad dancers. A complex Latin polyrhythm clears the floor. 
Classic dance tunes, numbingly overplayed, have a chirpy, cheer- 
leading, middlebrow tone. 

It is woman's destiny to rule men. Not to serve them, flatter 
them, or hang on them for guidance. Nor to insult them, demean 
them, or stereotype them as oppressors. Gay men and artists create 
a realm marked off from woman's power, but most men require 
women to center them and connect them to the underworld of emo- 
tional truth. When women withdraw from men, as has been done 
on a massive scale in lesbian feminism, we have a cultural disaster 
on our hands. In such a situation, men are divided from themselves, 
and women simply fail to mature. Lesbian feminists, for all their 
ideals of sisterhood and solidarity, can treat each other with a fick- 
leness, parasitic exploitativeness, and vicious spite that have to be 
seen to be believed. 

One of the most startling discoveries of my career was when I 
realized that the strongest women in the world are not lesbians but 
heterosexual women, who know how to handle men. It began with 
my disillusion with Martina Navratilova, the darling of the lesbian 
world, who used to symbolize for me the athletic new militance of 
my generation of feminists. Her rival, Chris Evert, was the nice 
Catholic girl, the goody- two-shoes whom I loathed, since she was 
everything we who were reared in the Fifties were expected to be. 
However, I came to see that Chris is the stronger of the two — that 
Martina has a childish streak and that that childishness is inextri- 
cable from her lesbianism. 



At key moments in important matches, Martina would glance 
up toward the stands and shrug or grin shamefacedly at Judy Nelson, 
her mature blonde lover, who was nodding and clapping like a 
hovering kindergarten teacher. It drove me crazy. Why did the 
premier Amazon of our time need a substitute mother figure? When 
things went wrong, Martina couldn't conceal her self-pity; the mask 
of strength would crumble, and she'd storm around the court in a 
snit. Meanwhile, Chris Evert never threw a tantrum, groused at 
opponents, or blamed officials. A bad call produced a steely stare, 
at most. Chris behaved like an adult, taking full responsibility for 
her performance and deportment. 

Classy Chris Evert is a better role model for young women than 
Martina, whose hyperdeveloped masculine musculature is overcom- 
pensation for her creampuff interior. The real butches are straight. 
Lauren Hutton and rock star Chrissie Hynde, for example, are far 
tougher chicks than k. d. lang, with her lugubrious singing style and 
her passe persona of a baby-faced desexed boy (early Wayne New- 
ton). Dealing with and controlling men make you stronger. 

Lesbians are mournful sentimentalists, dragging around ancient 
family baggage. The very worst are the sour political activists, who 
look like stumpy trolls. Virginia Woolf described the type well in 
clunky Doris Kilman in Mrs. Dalloway. A once-lesbian friend, now 
married, declared to me that lesbians suffer from "buried rage, with 
a desperate need for consolation." I see a persistent pattern among 
white middle-class lesbians: they often have a decorous, passive- 
aggressive mother, who uses her daughter as a proxy to act out her 
secret ambivalence toward men, in the person of the never directly 
confronted husband. Caretakers on the surface, lesbians are seething 
with unacknowledged hostility that erupts when someone (like me) 
challenges them. Freud saw hidden anger as the root of depression — 
the cause, in my view, of so many lesbians' notorious humorlessness. 
Imagination and creative energy are killed at their source. 

Gay men inhabit the bar scene as free radicals, competitive 
individualists scanning each other, preening, and scuffling for ter- 
ritory. Strangers can walk off the street in any country and enter 
the fray. Aggressive wit is an instrument of flirtation and seduction. 
Solitary cruising and pickups do occur among lesbians, but they are 
not the rule. Lesbian bars are organized in huge kinship groupings, 


which I identify as family regressions (the usual grass huts). Trying 
to break into these shifting cliques could drive you mad — unless you 
join one of their sports leagues. Musical beds is the name of the 
game. But each person sets up the next affair before she breaks off 
the last, so there is intricate overlapping, producing endless amounts 
of what Alison Maddcx calls, with exasperation, "lesbian drama 
from hell." Lushly eroticized push-pull emotion, rather than genital 
sexuality, is the real heart of lesbianism. It's All About Mom. 

Today, when a freshman has an affair with another girl, all the 
campus social-welfare machinery pushes her toward declaring her- 
self gay and accepting and "celebrating" it. This is a serious mistake. 
I encourage bisexual experimentation, and I want a world in which 
people, throughout their lives, freely cross the gender lines in love. 
But it is absurd to say that one, two, or more homosexual liaisons 
make you "gay" — as if lavender ink ran in your veins. Young women 
are often attracted to each other during a transitional period when 
they are breaking away from their parents, expanding their world- 
views, and developing their personalities. 

To identify these fruitful Sapphic idylls with a permanent con- 
dition of homosexuality is madness, and the campus counselors who 
encourage such premature conclusions should be condemned and 
banished. They are preying, for their own ideological purposes, on 
young people at their most vulnerable. I want to cry out to these 
girls: Stop! Think! Continue to love women, but resolve your prob- 
lems with men. If you expect to achieve, learn how to live in the 
real world. Men must be confronted, fairly and honestly. And for 
heaven's sake, don't fall down the rabbit hole of the lesbian scene. 
You will never escape, and your talent will wither on the vine. Your 
energy will be wasted and absorbed in repetition without progres- 
sion. Women alone are Spenser's Bower of Bliss, enclosed, com- 
fortable, and dangerous. 

The hypocrisy of lesbian feminist politics is clear in the increas- 
ing use among lesbians, over the past decade, of sex toys and esoteric 
sex practices. Thanks to advances in industrial plastics, dildos, a 
staple of ancient pornographic art, now flood what used to be called 
the "marital aids" market. In the early feminist Seventies, lesbian 
lovemaking was constrained by taboos: anything echoing heterosex- 
ual penetration had to be avoided or disguised. By the Eighties, the 



phobic MacKinnon-Dworkin school, which identifies penetration 
with violence and exploitation, was ascendant, but there were un- 
dercurrents of change. Susie Bright's comic dildo rap in Monika 
Treut's hit film, Virgin Machine (1988), exposed the liberal new San 
Francisco attitude toward sex toys to a national feminist audience. 

Here, as in Tantric yoga, we should welcome any ingenious 
techniques of pleasure. But what bothers me is that the lesbian dildo 
craze stubbornly avoids acknowledging its anatomy-as-destiny im- 
plications. Why stop at dildos? If penetration excites, and if receptive 
female genitalia are so suited to friction by penis-shaped objects, 
why not go on to real penises? Dildos, used for thousands of years 
around the world, have always been understood as temporary stop- 
gap measures, in the absence of men. Lesbian adoption of dildos 
should have been a first step toward a new bisexual awareness in 
feminism. Instead, the lines were drawn more firmly. Susie Bright 
used her prominence not to reconcile the sexes but to preach 
"fisting," a lesbian vaginal version of the notorious (and risky) gay- 
male anal practice. Without reconsideration of men as potential sex 
partners, such evasive maneuvers are grotesque. 

Because women have no external gauge of arousal, the erect 
penis is, and will remain, the ultimate symbol of human sexual 
desire. Its massive use in Hindu iconography descends from ancient 
fertility cults. Any woman, gay or straight, who cannot respond to 
penises or who finds them hideous or laughable (a puerile theme in 
the stage acts of lesbian comedians like Robin Tyler and Lea Delaria) 
has been traumatized by some early experience. She is neither com- 
plete as a woman nor healthy as a person. We can no longer allow, 
without protest, obsessives and neurotics to preach a mutilated 
brand of feminism to trusting young women. Here is where por- 
nography plays a crucial cultural role, for at its raunchiest it shows 
the penis in all its fascinating erotic modalities. 

Lesbians who use dildos but shun penises must start admitting 
that they operate sexually not just for women but against men. Prob- 
ably because of the maternal embraces of nursing and childcare, a 
greater, caressing physicality is permitted among women in virtually 
every culture. Thus lesbianism, with its diffuse tactility, is always 
less threatening than male homosexuality, which involves legitimate 
issues of manhood and masculinity. Women are biologically and 


psychologically more flexible than men, whom nature coldly confines 
to a narrow instrumentality. 

Sexual attraction may begin visually, but it is essentially an 
animal interaction of pheromones, the hormonal sex chemicals ex- 
uded in sweat and urine which act on us subliminally. Those ex- 
clusively homosexual as adults are signaling an aversion to the smell 
of the opposite-sex parent. For lesbians, women's sweet smell and 
cushiony contours are a euphoric return to a lost maternal union. 
The same smell and sensations strike gay men as cloying and claus- 
trophobic. Men's sharper, testosterone-based body odor seems ag- 
gressively unsettling to lesbians, who associate it with invasion of 
maternal turf by a rival who is known by words rather than touch 
and who represents harsh external judgment. (We did not need 
Lacan to tell us about the father as "law"; it's everywhere in Western 
literature from Aeschylus' Oresteia to Virginia Woolf's To the Light- 

Hence the roots of male homosexuality go back further than 
those of lesbianism, whose unarticulated resentment toward social 
order may explain its later vulnerability to philanthropic ideology. 
Lesbians, said a lesbian friend wearily to me, are "program heads": 
"They need the structure. They have all the answers." Hence les- 
bians' omnipresence in the social-welfare industry. Rejecting the 
father's competitive system, they substitute another that they imag- 
ine is based on female "caring" and "compassion" but is, in dismal 
effect, repressive, totalitarian, and hostile to art and dissent. The 
same friend memorably said to me long ago that lesbianism is caused 
by either "too much tit or not enough." 

The case of lesbianism demonstrates that sexual desire, which 
has moved to the foreground of modern life and dominates our pagan 
popular culture, now incorporates many longings that are beyond 
the physical. Visiting the elite schools on my lecture jaunts, I am 
struck by how the most militantly gay, Foucault-addled male stu- 
dents look like orphans, with 12-year-old Huck Finn clothing styles 
and haunted, starved eyes. They are spiritually unfathered. My 
friends Robert Caserio and Kristoffer Jacobson call them "lesboy- 
ans" — scrubbed, arrogant clones with bright, shallow smiles who 
mouth political cliches but whose sexual imaginations are completely 



undeveloped. Gaserio says, "Queer theory insulates them from real- 
ity." This is one reason why gay studies, in its current separatist 
form, must be opposed. Cultivated, cosmopolitan, pre-Stonewall gay 
men like Gore Vidal were the real revolutionaries. They lived in the 
world and accepted and advanced cultural history, the heritage of 
gay and straight alike. 

The unhappy truth is that male homosexuality will never be 
fully accepted by the heterosexual majority, who are obeying the 
dictates not of "bigoted" society or religion but of procreative nature. 
All of us emerge from the body of a mystical female giant. Boys are 
swamped in the female realm. Note how mothers take male children 
into the women's toilets: the boys are officially neuter and still part 
of the mother's body. To progress into manhood, boys must leave 
the women's world behind. In tribal cultures, men may kidnap a 
boy, slash his body with knives, throw him into a pit, or abandon 
him in the woods, cruel rites of passage still evident in the brutal, 
sometimes homicidal hazing of modern fraternities, which flourishes 
despite every effort to ban it. How many women students fall to 
their death while walking, drunk, on a balcony railing during Florida 
spring fling, or drown, stunned by a rock, when they dive off a cliff 
into a quarry at midnight? — an actual incident at Bennington, which 
killed one of my most attractive male students. Testing is integral 
to masculine development. The old epithets "mama's boy" and 
"sissy" (i.e., "sister") still harbor psychological truth. 

At the transition to manhood, most boys pass through a 
homophobic stage, where "gay" is a term of contempt (applied 
indiscriminately today to anything uncool) and where recreational 
gaybashing may be a criminal means of group self-affirmation. Be- 
cause boys lack a biological marker like menstruation, to be a man 
is to be not female. Contemporary feminism called this "misogyny," 
but it was wrong. Masculine identity is embattled and fragile. In 
the absence of opportunity for heroic physical action, as in the mod- 
ern office world, women's goodwill is crucial for preserving the male 
ego, which requires, alas, daily maintenance. It is in the best interests 
of the human race, and of women themselves, for men to be strong. 
Inspired by my Italian heritage, with its blazingly assertive personae, 
I call for strong men and strong women, not strong women and 


castrated men. Hot sex and healthy children cannot be produced 
by eunuchs. Women, the stronger sex from birth to death, better 
get their priorities straight. Male swagger is erotic. 

Unfortunately for the gay cause, hostility toward, or discomfort 
with, male homosexuality is built into this dynamic. Paradoxically, 
gay men themselves understand the arrogant imperviousness of het- 
erosexual masculinity, since its steely forms dominate their erotic 
iconography. Male homosexuality may therefore be inherently 
tragic, for it posits as glamourous perfection precisely what most 
loathes it and cancels it out. From this agonizing and irresolvable 
contradiction came some of our greatest art, such as that of Dona- 
tello, Botticelli, and Michelangelo. When feminism tries to eliminate 
or severely revise historical standards of masculinity without hon- 
oring what they have stood for, both men and women drift farther 
from secure identity. That the masculine, which exists only in mo- 
ments of assertion, is condemned to transience does not diminish its 
beauty or glory as an ideal. 

Gay activism has been naive in its belligerent confidence that 
"homophobia" will eventually disappear, with proper "education" 
of the benighted. Reeducation of fractious young boys on the scale 
required would mean fascist obliteration of all individual freedoms. 
Furthermore, no truly masculine father will ever welcome a feminine 
or artistic son at the start, since the son's lack of virility not only 
threatens but liquidates that father's identity, dissolving husband 
into wife. Later there may be public rituals of acceptance, but the 
damage will already have been done. Gay men are aliens, cursed 
and gifted, the shamans of our time. 

Gays must demand not to be physically harassed, but they have 
no more claim to legal protection than any other group of citizens, 
large or small. I oppose the concept of "hate crimes": as a libertarian, 
I am suspicious of government inquiries into psychological moti- 
vation, except when fixing length of sentence after criminal convic- 
tion. Democracies should not be burdened with excess legislation, 
and Big Brother should stay out of our souls. "Hate crimes," cur- 
rently applied on sometimes shaky evidence to racial, ethnic, or 
sexual incidents, would also describe the feuding of Hatfields and 
McCoys, the shootouts of urban street gangs, rioting among British 
soccer fans, or any violent dispute among family members or neigh- 



bors. Why wasn't it a hate crime when two brothers shotgunned 
their affluent parents while watching TV, or when a woman severed 
her sleeping husband's penis, or when a skater tried to cripple her 
rival? The term has simply become a stalking horse for sentimental 
liberalism and should be dropped. 

The worst misjudgments of gay activism were on view during 
its botched campaign to end the ban on gays in the military. Before 
and after the inauguration of Bill Clinton, a pontificating parade of 
self-appointed gay leaders marshaled a series of men and women 
whose military service had been terminated because of homosex- 
uality. My position is that no institution may control what one does 
in one's free time and that gays therefore have every right to join 
and be promoted in the military. But gay activists, in pushing their 
agenda, told lie after lie. The television camera was not kind to the 
gay leaders or their martyred male servicemen. The former seemed 
shifty and weasely, and the latter strangely childish and undevel- 
oped. Pictures of plaintiff gay soldiers with big, frightened, rabbity 
eyes gave new life to the idea that gay men are not as masculine as 
others. We were being lectured about sameness, but what we saw 
was difference. The gay establishment, cocooned in conceit, never 
caught or corrected this costly public relations error. 

The biggest activist lie was the claim that openly gay soldiers 
would not disrupt military cohesion. Of course they would, and it 
should have been admitted. But commanding officers must restore 
unit discipline, at home or abroad. Again, I question special pro- 
tections of gays; if they choose to reveal their sexual preference, they 
are not entitled to greater consideration than anyone else. Until 
America gets a more sophisticated sense of sexuality, in the decadent 
European style, young heterosexual men will never serve comfort- 
ably with gay men in close quarters. Hostility and rejection are 
inevitable and may have to be tolerated, as long as professionalism 
of the mission is maintained. Given the probable permanence of the 
homophobic stage in male development, open homosexuality in the 
military, even if officially permitted, will remain risky. 

It is ridiculous to assert that gay men are interested only in 
other gay men and would never ogle straight men in barracks show- 
ers. When I heard this on TV, I burst out laughing. Anyone who 
belongs to a health club knows better. Sexual tension and appraisal 



are constants, above all among gay men, who never stop cruising 
everything in sight. Seduction of straight studs is a highly erotic 
motif in gay porn. The problem with the gay-activist position is 
that, for philosophic consistency, it should have argued for integra- 
tion of male and female military quarters, like college dormitories. 
Continued segregation by gender makes no sense, if the cohabitation 
of gays with straights is really so benign. Everyone should be free 
to ogle everyone else, as long as looks don't cross over to touch. 
Similarly, everyone should be free to insult everyone else, as long 
as words don't escalate into violence. 

While they force themselves into public schools, demanding 
curricular representation and free condom distribution (both of 
which I oppose as a deformation of education), most gay activists 
have shown very little courage in dealing with pedophilia, which 
they dismiss as a hoary libel by religious fundamentalists. Man-boy 
love is perfectly obvious in the pagan homoerotic art tradition, from 
Greek sculpture to Donatello and Caravaggio and late nineteenth- 
century poetry. NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love 
Association) is consistently banned from gay marches and events. 
The narrow political focus of gay activism prevented it from ad- 
dressing larger questions about sexuality. Pedophilia, for example, 
is yet another indicator of sexual difference, since it applies only to 
gay men, never lesbians. By keeping NAMBLA at arm's length, 
activists apparently think they can broaden their acceptability and 
sell their agenda, which includes a preposterous demand for openly 
gay Boy Scout leaders. (What would feminists say about grown men 
dying to take pubescent Girl Scouts on hikes, sleep-overs and camp- 

Public hysteria has made objective discussion of this subject 
very difficult. I was nearly lynched by a furious audience on a tele- 
vision talk show in 1992, when the host asked me about my defense 
of man-boy love in Sexual Personae. I have no erotic interest in chil- 
dren, but I protest the thought-blocking and context-blind value 
judgments inherent in automatically referring to every adult-juvenile 
physical encounter as "abuse," "molestation," or "assault." There 
are certainly atrocious incidents of genuine rape, which we must 
condemn. But in some cases the contact is actually initiated by the 
youth; in others, the relationship may be a positive one, but of course 



one never hears about it, since the affair doesn't end up in court. 
Loaded terminology is self-defeating, since it coarsens distinctions 
and prevents us from recognizing authentic abuse when it occurs. 

In Sex and Destiny (1984), Germaine Greer documents the far 
freer sensuous physicality of adults with children in non-Western 
cultures but unfortunately stops short of my conclusions. The mo- 
ment was right for a searching critique of our priggish sexual 
assumptions in this area, which have been institutionalized by 
a banal social-welfare bureaucracy. I have been thanked for my 
views by many men, by letter and in person after lectures, be- 
cause of their own adolescent liaisons with supportive adults. At 
Bennington, I became aware (when Polaroid photos of a kneeling 
boy's golden genitals fell out of a book) of a private connection 
between a genial aging male poet and a good-looking local youth in 
his early teens. It was against the law, but I saw nothing wrong 
with it. 

The problem is in trying to define the cutoff point, where coer- 
cion is incontrovertible. Sex with an infant certainly falls into this 
category. But our present age of consent is far too high and treats 
adolescents as an enslaved class owned by their parents. Who is to 
say whether or not a juvenile is capable of informed choice? When 
does protection of children become oppression? Does anyone really 
believe that Joey Buttafuoco, convicted of statutory rape of a minor 
(the Long Island shark goddess, Amy Fisher), took advantage of a 
helpless child? Because of the incest taboo, most people cannot admit 
how the pagan conventions of Baroque putti and Valentine's Day 
Cupids represent an eroticization of fleshy infant bodies. My position 
on child pornography is that no images, if drawn, painted, or 
sculpted, may be banned. As for the use of actual children in erotic 
photographs and videos, some restriction may seem reasonable, 
given our modern repugnance to child labor, but there is no easy 
answer, since government is notoriously unable to discriminate among 
kinds of art. 

The damage from many pedophiliac encounters probably comes, 
as some psychologists suggest, less from the contact itself than from 
the culturally enforced stress and secrecy surrounding it. In a recent 
scandal in New Jersey, a seventy-seven-year-old man was arrested 
after years of visitations by droves of teenaged boys, who permitted 



mild physical liberties in exchange for money, liquor, and drugs. 
Neighbors reported boys scaling the wall of the senior-citizens apart- 
ment building at all hours of the night. Aside from the public dis- 
turbance, why shouldn't both parties in this case be free to make 
such a voluntary commercial transaction? Why shouldn't a juvenile 
have the right to dispose of his body as he wishes? At this time, I 
favor lowering the age of consent to fourteen. 

Our hypocrisy about pedophilia has simply forced the problem 
into the Third World, to which Westerners go for sun-and-sex va- 
cations with underage boys. That economic exploitation will not end 
until our strict Judeo-Christian position is challenged by a more 
liberal pagan one. In the Anglo-American world, there is an endless 
postponement of adulthood, which the Catholic Church once dated 
from age seven. In pre-industrial rural life, where children went to 
work young, sexual maturity was defined by internal natural pro- 
cesses. We need to reexamine the way bourgeois values of profes- 
sional job readiness, which have so distorted male-female relations, 
have also curtailed the sexual freedom and self-determination of the 

Homosexuality is necessary now to heal the fissures in the Western 
psyche, in this period following the industrial revolution. But is 
homosexuality a permanent solution to the problems of the nuclear 
family? Do we want the sexes forever divorced, in a state of perpetual 
alienation? Middle-class men, neutered by office life and daunted 
by feminist rhetoric, are shrinking. Lesbianism is increasing, since 
anxious, unmasculine men have little to offer. Women are simply 
more interesting. Male homosexuality is increasing, because mas- 
culinity is in crisis and because maternal consciousness, severed from 
the support network of the extended family, has become a psychotic 
system, forcing the young to struggle for life against clinging parental 

Current gay cant insists that homosexuality is "not a choice," 
that no one would choose to be gay in a homophobic society. But 
there is an element of choice in all behavior, sexual or otherwise. It 
takes an effort to deal with the opposite sex; it's safer with your own 
kind. The issue is one of challenge versus comfort. In the modern 
world, homosexuality has become a self-perpetuating lifestyle. The 
more its practitioners have become preoccupied with self-definition, 



the less meaningful that definition is, since it is predicated on pro- 
vincialism and tautology. 

Homosexuality as erotic expression has to be liberated from gay 
activism, which systematically oversimplifies issues or evades their 
implications. Instead of arguing for legal recognition of gay mar- 
riages, for example, it should have attacked the favored economic 
status given to marriage at all, a position more consistent with 
antibourgeois Sixties radicalism. Ceremonies of commitment do fill 
a psychological need and bind the larger community together; 
domestic-partner legislation benefits heterosexuals as well. But if 
gay marriages are permitted (a prerogative of the most decadent 
Roman emperors), why not polygamy? — a pagan and early Hebrew 
practice later banned by Judeo-Christianity. We should also beware 
of the potentially pernicious intermingling of gay activism with sci- 
ence, which produces more propaganda than truth. Gay scientists 
must be scientists first, gays second. 

Midway through the AIDS epidemic, the media, having ignored 
homosexuality or treated it in a lurid manner, did a quick flip-flop 
under activist pressure and now continues its policy of unthinking 
cant by parroting the gay-establishment party line on every occa- 
sion. Like Elizabethan Papists or seventeenth-century French Jes- 
uits, gay activists have earned a reputation as conspirators and 
casuists, because of their amoral tactics of deceit, defamation, intim- 
idation, and extortion. By politicizing homosexuality and isolating 
it from the continuum of human life, they have managed to make 
it pathological again. 

Policed by gay censors, the cultural debate over homosexuality 
has been stifled, to the spiritual detriment of gays themselves. For 
example, the Christian Fundamentalist charge that AIDS is "God's 
punishment" was summarily rejected twenty years ago and never 
adequately dealt with, so that it remains, unanswered and alive as 
ever. There was a cause and effect connection between promiscuity 
and the epidemic, as well as an "Apres moi, le deluge" attitude on 
the part of many gays. Self-questioning is crucial. 

The conservative moral argument, positing a guilt that had to 
be expiated, was closer to the truth than the left's callow shunting 
off of blame onto negligent social authorities. The gay activist ob- 
session with condom distribution (as if condoms were 100 percent 



effective) is a displacement of anxiety from the real horror of AIDS: 
that men are carrying poisoned semen in their scrotums. As in the 
Theban plague of Oedipus Rex, there is a blight on the seed: the heart 
of nature has been contaminated. If we reject the extreme Christian 
reading of the epidemic, as I do, then we must offer new metaphors, 
a mythopoetic pagan alternative. Our inner turbulence must be 
acknowledged and addressed. In the collective unconscious, gay and 
straight suffer together. 

6. conclusion: citizens of the empire 

As America's pagan popular culture expands around the world, 
and as multicultural influences flow back and are absorbed by us 
in turn, we have re-created the polyglot complexity of the Roman 
empire at its height. We should accept the imperial model of moral 
dichotomy, the state of perpetual tension between the sober virtues 
of the republican past and the luxury and decadence of the present. 
Opposition, rather than approval, produces the sculptural carving 
out of selfhood. 

Creative duality is my master principle. We must belong simul- 
taneously to the mainstream culture and to our ever-receding ethnic 
origins. Imperialism may begin as a system of unilateral domination, 
but it ends as artistic and intellectual cosmopolitanism, revolution- 
ary in its own right. In today's global existence, the alternative to 
imperialism is not unconditional freedom but tribalism, fractious 
and fragmented. 

In sexual and racial matters, the parochial tribal entity is now 
"identity politics," a barricaded secessionism that is a spiritual dead 
end. Hostile respect, rather than pluralism, may be the best we can 
hope for. The new extended family, no longer linked by blood, will 
be both patriotic and internationalist, preserving history without 
being trapped by it. 

Imperial sexuality, typified by the syncretism of the Mediter- 
ranean goddess cults, was grounded in both civilization and nature. 
In practice, this means that while homosexuality is a brave and 
necessary drive for male autonomy, gay men must render unto Cy- 
bele the things that are Cybele's. And women, in rightly seizing 



social power, must not neglect what they owe to, and need from, 
the ancient rites of phallicism. 

I see the dynamic of history as an oscillation between Apollonian 
and Dionysian principles, order and energy, which become, at their 
extremes, fascism or chaos. In sexual terms, this promises eternal 
conflict between repression and debauchery. We must learn how to 
make tiny corrections to avoid the uncontrolled swing of the pen- 
dulum that, over a generation, swept us from Fifties conformism to 
Sixties rebellion to Seventies excess and the cataclysm of AIDS. We 
now live with the smell of funeral pyres. 

Dual vision allows us to hail the epochal liberation of the senses 
in post-Stonewall gay culture and at the same time to acknowledge 
its massive destructiveness. There has been a contemptible failure 
by gay leaders to admit the slightest moral responsibility for the 
enormous part the gay community played, helped by jet travel, in 
the rapid spread of AIDS throughout the world. That the harm was 
not intentional makes the gay role all the more tragic, in the original 
Greek sense. The Stonewall victory was in many ways Pyrrhic. 

The fatalism of imperial philosophy gives death a simple, secular 
dignity. Life is dust to dust, without the trick ending of salvation. 
Hit plays and films of the moment use mawkish Victorian senti- 
mentality to present AIDS sufferers as noble victims whose only 
problem is lack of acceptance and love from society. But gay men 
challenged nature and lost. What is "safe sex" but a return to the 
normative? — as dictated by tyrant nature. Promiscuity is a pagan 
choice, but then be prepared to pay the price. Of short, intense 
Romantic lives, represented in our time by gay men and rock stars, 
it can be said (revising a famous motto of the American Revolution), 
"Live free and die!" 

My model of dualism is the drag queen, who negotiates between 
sexual personae, day by day. I sometimes call my system "drag 
queen feminism." Queens are "fierce," in every sense. Masters of 
aggressive, bawdy speech, they know the street and its dangers and 
fight it out without running to authority figures, who would hardly 
be sympathetic. Queens, unlike feminists, know that woman is dom- 
inatrix of the universe. They take on supernatural energy when 
ritualistically donning their opulent costume, the historical regalia 



of woman's power. Prostitute and drag queen are sexual warriors 
who offer a pagan challenge to bourgeois gentility, now stultifying 
modern life from corporate boardrooms to academia to suburban 
shopping malls. 

Bisexuality is our best hope of escape from the animosities and 
false polarities of the current sex wars. Whether or not we can put 
it into practice, bisexuality is a great pagan ideal. Perhaps bisexual 
responsiveness is all we can hope for. Indeed, that is the lesson of art 
history, which exposes us to the many ravishing forms of human 
beauty. The homosexual Botticelli produced, in The Birth of Venus, 
one of the most sublime images of the power of woman. And Mi- 
chelangelo, adorning the Sistine Chapel with twenty homoerotic 
ignudi (nude Greek youths), made the most radical statement yet of 
the enduring duality of pagan and Christian in our culture. 

A pagan education would sharpen the mind, steel the will, and 
seduce the senses. Our philosophy should be both contemplative 
and pugilistic, admitting aggression (as Christianity does not) as 
central to our mythology. The beasts of passion must be confronted, 
and the laws of nature understood. Conflict cannot be avoided, but 
perhaps it can be confined to a mental theater. In the imperial arena, 
there is no law but imagination. 



Is there intellectual life in America? At present, the answer is 
no. Since the decline of the great era of literary journalism, when 
Edmund Wilson, the Algonquin wits, and the politically engaged 
Partisan Review writers were active, America has lacked a general 
literate culture hospitable to ideas. Mary McCarthy went off to Paris, 
and Susan Sontag, after half-a-dozen promising years, withdrew into 
French preciosity and irrelevance. When she was attacked for her 
laudable interest in pop culture, Sontag dropped it like a hot potato 
and has never since regained the status she enjoyed in the 1960s. 

During that decade, a vital artistic and intellectual consciousness 
was taking shape. Passionate, prophetic voices, heirs to the visionary 
tradition of Emerson, Whitman, and Hart Crane, spoke in the central 
works of Allen Ginsberg, Norman O. Brown, and Leslie Fiedler, but 
they had few successors. The actual achievements of 1960s thinkers 
were few and limited, and the line of continuity was broken. 

America's current intellectual crisis originates in the tragic loss 
of the boldest and most innovative members of the 1960s generation. 
Drugs may have expanded the mind, but they arrested its long-term 

[Times Literary Supplement, London, May 22, 1992] 



productivity, whose promise was glimpsed in the so-called "psy- 
chedelic" phase of rock music. 

The students most affected by the Sixties did not as a rule enter 
the professions, whose stultifying rules for advancement have re- 
mained unchanged for fifty years. Instead, they surrendered their 
places to less talented contemporaries, careerists in the dull, timid 
Fifties style. 

Nowhere was this truer than in academia. The effect upon Amer- 
ican universities of the student rebellions was fleeting. Genuine rad- 
icals did not go on to graduate school. If they did, they soon dropped 
out, or were later defeated by the faculty recruitment and promotion 
process, which rewards conformism and sycophancy. The univer- 
sities were abandoned to the time-servers and mercenaries who now 
hold many of the senior positions there. Ideas had been relegated 
to the universities, but the universities belonged to the drudges. 

There is a widespread notion that these people are dangerous 
leftists, "tenured radicals" in Roger Kimball's phrase, who have 
invaded the American establishment with subversive ideas. In fact, 
they are not radicals at all. Authentic leftism is nowhere to be seen 
in our major universities. The "multiculturalists" and the "politi- 
cally correct" on the subjects of race, class, and gender actually 
represent a continuation of the genteel tradition of respectability and 
conformity. They have institutionalized American niceness, which 
seeks, above all, not to offend and must therefore pretend not to 
notice any differences or distinctions among people or cultures. 

The politically correct professors, with their hostility to the 
"canon" of great European writers and artists, have done serious 
damage to the quality of undergraduate education at the best Amer- 
ican colleges and universities. Yet they are people without deep 
beliefs. Real radicals stand for something and risk something; these 
academics are very pampered fat cats who have never stood on 
principle at any point in their careers. Nothing has happened to 
them in their lives. They never went to war; they were never out of 
work or broke. They have no experience or knowledge of anything 
outside the university, least of all working-class life. Their politics 
are a trendy tissue of sentimental fantasy and unsupported verbal 
categories. Guilt over their own privilege has frozen their political 



discourse into a simplistic world melodrama of privilege versus dep- 

Intellectual debate in the humanities has also suffered because 
of the narrowness of training of those who emerged from the over- 
departmentalized and overspecialized universities of the postwar 
period. The New Criticism, casting off the old historicism of German 
philology, produced a generation of academics trained to think of 
literature as largely detached from historical context. This was ideal 
breeding ground for French theory, a Saussurean paradigm dating 
from the 1940s and '50s that was already long passe when American 
academics got hold of it in the early 1970s. French theory, far from 
being a symbol of the 1960s, was on the contrary a useful defensive 
strategy for well-positioned, pedantic professors actively resisting 
the ethnic and cultural revolution of that subversive decade. Fou- 
cault, a glib game-player who took very little research a very long 
way, was especially attractive to literary academics in search of a 
short cut to understanding world history, anthropology and political 

The 1960s failed, I believe, partly because of unclear thinking 
about institutions, which it portrayed in dark, conspiratorial, Kaf- 
kaesque terms. The positive role of institutions in economically com- 
plex societies was neglected. The vast capitalist distribution network 
is so efficient in America that it is invisible to our affluent, middle- 
class humanists. Capitalism's contribution to the emergence of 
modern individualism, and therefore feminism, has been blindly 
suppressed. This snide ahistoricism is the norm these days in wom- 
en's studies programs and chi-chi, Foucault-afflicted literature de- 
partments. Leftists have damaged their own cause, with whose basic 
principles I as a 1960s libertarian generally agree, by their indiffer- 
ence to fact, their carelessness and sloth, their unforgivable lack of 
professionalism as scholars. The Sixties world-view, which inte- 
grated both nature and culture, has degenerated into clamorous, 
competitive special-interest groups. 

The universities led the way by creating a ghetto of black studies, 
which begat women's studies, which in turn begat gay studies. Not 
one of these makeshift, would-be disciplines has shown itself capable 
of re-creating the broad humane picture of Sixties thought. Each 

1 oo 


has simply made up its own rules and fostered its own selfish clien- 
tele, who have created a closed system in which scholarship is in- 
separable from politics. It is, indeed, questionable whether or not 
the best interests of blacks, women, and gays have been served by 
these political fiefdoms. The evidence about women's studies sug- 
gests the opposite: that these programs have hatched the new thought 
police of political correctness. No conservative presently in or out 
of government has the power of intimidation wielded by these ruth- 
less forces. The silencing of minority opinion has been systematic in 
faculty recruitment and promotion. The winners of that rat-race 
seem genuinely baffled by such charges, since, of course, their con- 
ventional, fashionable opinions have never been stifled. 

While lecturing at major American universities this year, I have 
come into direct conflict with the politically correct establishment. 
At Harvard and elsewhere I was boycotted by the feminist faculty, 
and at several colleges leaflets were distributed, inaccurately de- 
nouncing me as a voice of the far right. Following my lecture at 
Brown, I was screamed at by soft, inexperienced, but seethingly 
neurotic middle-class white girls, whose feminist party-line views on 
rape I have rejected in my writings. Rational discourse is not possible 
in an atmosphere of such mob derangement. 

Sociologically, the roots of the campus crisis can be found in 
the rapid expansion of the college-going population in America in 
the decades following the Second World War. After the "baby- 
boomers, " the post-war demographic bulge, passed through, colleges 
were forced to retrench, and they turned to aggressive marketing 
strategies to maintain enrollment. As costs continued to rise, they 
were locked into a strictly commercial relationship with parents. 
Intellectual matters soon took a back seat to the main issue: pro- 
viding a "nice time" for students with paying parents. 

By the early 1970s, American universities had become top-heavy 
with full-time administrators who took to speaking of the campus 
as a "community," which, faculty soon discovered, was governed 
by invisible codes of acceptable speech, opinions, and behavior. In 
the past fifteen years, some of these administrators, especially Stu- 
dent Life deans and the freshmen orientation staff, have forged a 
disquieting alliance with women's studies programs, and are indoc- 
trinating their charges with the latest politically correct attitudes on 


1 Ol 

dating, sexual preference, and so on. Many of the students, neglected 
by their prosperous, professional parents, are pathetically grateful 
for these attentions. Such coddling has led, in my view, to the out- 
rageous speech codes which are designed to shield students from the 
realities of life. The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a 
nursery school where adulthood can be indefinitely postponed. Fac- 
ulty who are committed to the great principle of free speech are 
therefore at war with paternalistic administrators in league with 
misguided parents. 

In the summer-camp mentality of American universities, the 
ferocity of genuine intellectual debate would just seem like spoiling 
everyone's fun. Ambitious humanities professors go about their busi- 
ness behind a brick wall of "theory," which they imagine is the 
dernier cri, but which has long been out of fashion, even in Paris. 
Drab, uncultivated philistines, without broad knowledge of the arts, 
have seized the top jobs in the Ivy League, simply because they 
have the right opinions and know the right people. In the past twenty 
years, conferences became the infernal engine driving the academic 
profession. The conference crowd, an international party circuit of 
literary luminaries ever on the move, was put together by the new 
humanities centers. These programs had the initially laudable aim 
of fostering interdisciplinary exchanges outside the repressive frame- 
work of the conservative, static and over-tenured university depart- 
ments. But the epidemic of French theory was abroad in the world. 
The humanities centers quickly became careerist stockyards, where 
greedy speculation and insider trading were as much the rules of 
the game as on Wall Street. 

Quieter, more traditional academics were outmaneuvered by 
the conference crowd, and scholarship was the victim. The human- 
ities centers are now controlled by small, amoral cadres that are 
intricately intertwined with each other nationally by cronyism, fa- 
voritism, patronage and collusion. It is essential for American in- 
tellectual life that they be brought under scrutiny. And, indeed, that 
is beginning to happen: in April, a prominent woman scholar filed 
a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for tol- 
erating an internal putsch by a cabal of politically correct faculty 
members with close ties to the cultural studies center at Harvard 

1 02 


The solution to the present dilemma is for academic liberals to 
speak out against the rampant corruption of their profession. The 
reform of education is too often being left to the neoconservatives 
these days. My own proposals for reform include the abolition of all 
literary conferences and the replacement of women's studies with 
sex studies, based on the rigorous study of world history, anthro- 
pology, psychology, and science. Today, in politically correct Amer- 
ica, questions of quality, learning, and intellectual distinction are 
out of style. 



Not all the gay press has been hostile. My X-rated book received 
warm attention in gay publications from San Francisco to London. 
But the scourge of political correctness is clearest in my own city: 
neither of the Philadelphia gay newspapers has mentioned my name 
in the two years since Sexual Personae was published. 

Strident, repressive gay activists persistently distort my views. 
For example, an article in The Advocate ["The Newsroom Becomes 
a Battleground," Issue 603] claimed that I had called lesbians "path- 
ological" — a flat-out lie. I am compared to Nazis and denounced 
as a "neoconservative" — a ridiculous label for someone who publicly 
defends pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, transvestism, 
and sadomasochism. I am constantly called "homophobic," despite 
the fact that I spent most of my adult life as an open lesbian and 
paid my dues for it. My militancy and general obnoxiousness pre- 
ceded both the present women's movement and Stonewall. I will 
match my credentials as an Amazon and feminist pioneer against 
those of my boring, lockstep critics any day. 

I hate dogma in any form. I hated it in the Catholic Church 
and Girl Scout troops of the 1950s, and I hate it in gay activism 

[The Advocate, September 22, 1992] 

1 03 

1 OA 


and established feminism today. We must no longer tolerate narrow, 
rigid thinking, pious cliches, and humorless party-line rhetoric. 
What attracted me to gay men in college in the 1960s was their 
fierce independence of mind, their whiplash tongues, and their scorn 
for bourgeois decorum, saccharine sentimentality, and empty ide- 
ology. They came from ordinary middle-class homes in the suburbs 
or the Midwest, yet they had taste, distinction, and style — a sense 
of beauty that I believe is innate and surely connected with the 
artistic gene. 

Gay men saw movies, television, art, opera, and fashion in a 
new way — learned, enthusiastic, and brilliantly imaginative. And 
they integrated sex with culture: they were bawdy, lewd, and ad- 
venturous — at home on the dangerous midnight streets. 

This bold, cultivated cosmopolitan sensibility is still alive in 
many gay men, but you would never know it from the gay press, 
whose political commentary too often smacks of wheel-spinning Sta- 
linist hackwork. How did it get this bad? One can't keep blaming 
AIDS, since feminism had already sunk chin-deep into mindless 
propaganda before the epidemic started. I think the Stonewall re- 
bellion, a central event in cultural history, had one unfortunate effect: 
Gay liberation also led to sexual segregation, which has been dis- 
astrous for both men and women. 

In the pre-Stonewall period, the few discreet, shabby gay bars 
outside major cities usually mixed the sexes. After Stonewall, the 
men's bars exploded in number and luxury. I vividly remember 
when the doors of the men's bars closed in my face. It was 1974, 
the dawn of the orgy-room and bathhouse era. Strange parasitic 
diseases soon began appearing, and by 1981 a "gay cancer" was 
identified as AIDS. The price of the Sixties sexual revolution, which 
I supported, was paid by gay men. We must honestly admit that 
gay men's attempt to create a world without women failed catas- 
trophically. Pre-Stonewall gays revered goddesslike female stars, 
while the post-Stonewall scene went macho clone. The female prin- 
ciple was lost. 

Lesbian feminism of the last twenty years also suffered, with its 
mushy do-gooder anti-art egalitarianism and its adolescent antimale 
petulance. I tend to get along with pre-Stonewall lesbians, who are 


1 OS 

refreshingly free of political sloganeering. It is no coincidence that 
the only intelligent feminist review of Sexual Personae was by Lillian 
Faderman or that when I recently met comedian Robin Tyler in 
London, we instantly seemed to speak the same language of brass- 
balls individualism. There is an insurgent protest movement of les- 
bians fed up with the dreariness and sex phobia of the old guard, 
but it's still marginal. Susie Bright and Pat Califia, with all their 
many virtues, have not produced work of intellectual weight equal 
to that of the puritanical Catharine MacKinnon. 

My first proposal for the gay world: Get rid of dead abstract 
"theory" and rabid social constructionism, the limp legacy of aca- 
demic know-nothings. The Sixties were about nature, in the Ro- 
mantic way. You cannot understand sex or AIDS until you 
reacquaint yourself with nature and its dark mysteries. Our guide 
should be not the frigid, head-tripping nerd Michel Foucault but 
prophetic Allen Ginsberg, who fused Hinduism with Walt Whit- 
man to give us a radical vision of energy, passion, and sensual- 
ity — of homosexual desire grounded in the amoral rhythms of 

Next, get rid of victimology and oppression politics. The real 
revolution will come when we are free of the false dichotomy of gay/ 
straight and when bisexual responsiveness is accepted as the uni- 
versal norm. Finally, reposition AIDS in the philosophical context 
of world history. Fanatical ranting rage, the favorite face of ACT 
UP, is infantile. Martin Luther King learned from Gandhi how to 
make the sufferings of your people the sufferings of all humanity. 
You do not invade or insult churches; you do not silence dissent or 
smear as "bigots" people who oppose your practices on religious 
grounds. Gay activism has got to get off its knee-jerk oppositional 
mode and into an affirmative articulation of first principles, which 
in my view have to be based on pagan pansexuality, a complex, 
reasoned alternative to Judeo-Christian ethics. 

[Afterword: Just before this article went to the printer, the headline 
was sabotaged in the Advocate offices to read: "Camille Paglia Defends 
Her Rotten Record." The editors launched an investigation and 
apologized. In an indignant letter to the editor (Oct. 6), Paglia 

1 06 


stated: ''Incidents like this prove my point: smug, juvenile political 
correctness is strangling free speech in too much of the gay and 
feminist world. I invite others to join my campaign against the 
Stalinists among us." The reference to Robin Tyler also caused 
controversy: see the index.] 


I am a pornographer. From earliest childhood, I saw sex suf- 
fusing the world. I felt the rhythms of nature and the aggressive 
energies of animal life. Art objects, in both museum and church, 
seemed to blaze with sensual beauty. The authority figures of church, 
school, and family denied or suppressed what I saw, but like Ma- 
donna, I kept to my pagan vision. I belong to the Sixties generation 
that tried and failed to shatter all sexual norms and taboos. In my 
book, Sexual Personae, I injected lewdness, voyeurism, homoeroticism 
and sadomasochism into the entire Western high-art tradition. 

Because I am a pornographer, I am at war with Catharine 
MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. These obsessed, moralistic 
women, feminism's oddest odd couple, are Carry Nation reborn. 
They were co-authors of the Minneapolis and Indianapolis ordi- 
nances against pornography that were declared unconstitutional. 
They have produced, individually and in collaboration, an enormous 
amount of material ranging from tortured autobiographical confes- 
sions to legal case histories and academic Marxist critiques. 

MacKinnon was among the first to argue for the establishment 

[Playboy, October 1992] 

1 07 

1 08 


of sexual harassment as a legal category. But her positive contri- 
butions to women's issues must be weighed against the responsibility 
she bears for fomenting the crazed sexual hysteria that now grips 
American feminism. Date rape has swelled into a catastrophic cosmic 
event, like an asteroid threatening the earth in a Fifties science- 
fiction film. Anita Hill, a competent but priggish, self-interested 
yuppie, has been canonized as a virgin martyr ruined by the de- 
praved emperor — who never laid a hand on her. 

MacKinnon is a totalitarian. She wants a risk-free, state- 
controlled world. She believes rules and regulations will solve every 
human ill and straighten out all those irksome problems between 
the sexes that have been going on for five thousand years. As a 
lawyer, MacKinnon is deft and pragmatic. But as a political thinker, 
cultural historian, or commentator on sex, she is incompetent. For 
a woman of her obvious intelligence, her frame of reference is shock- 
ingly small. She has the dull instincts and tastes of a bureaucrat. 
It's all work and no play in MacKinnon Land. Literature, art, music, 
film, television — nothing intrudes on MacKinnon's consciousness 
unless it has been filtered through feminism, which has taught her, 
she likes to say, "everything I know." There's the rub. She is some- 
one who, because of her own private emotional turmoil, locked on 
to Seventies-era feminism and never let go. 

MacKinnon has a cold, inflexible, and fundamentally unschol- 
arly mind. She is a propagandist and casuist, good at constructing 
ad hoc arguments from expedience for specific political aims. But 
her knowledge of intellectual or world history is limited, and as a 
researcher she has remarkably poor judgment in evaluating sources. 
She wildly overpraises weak feminist writers and has no feeling 
whatever for psychology, a defect that makes her conclusions about 
sex ridiculous. She is a Stalinist who believes that art must serve a 
political agenda and that all opposing voices are enemies of humanity 
who must be silenced. MacKinnon and Dworkin are fanatics, zeal- 
ots, fundamentalists of the new feminist religion. Their alliance with 
the reactionary, antiporn far right is no coincidence. 

MacKinnon is a classic WASP who painstakingly builds huge, 
rigid structures of words in complete obliviousness to the organic, 
sensual, and visual. She is a twentieth-century puritan whose up- 


1 09 

bringing — a stern Minnesota judge as father, Episcopalian and 
conservative Republican — seems straight out of Hawthorne. 
MacKinnon's pinched, cramped, body-denying Protestant culture 
made her peculiarly susceptible to Andrea Dworkin, whose let-it- 
all-hang-out ethnicity was initially liberating. MacKinnon's stolid 
lack of psychology drew her to Dworkin's boiling emotionalism and 
self-analytic, self-lacerating Jewishness. In return, MacKinnon, the 
third-generation Smith College WASP insider, satisfied Dworkin's 
longings for establishment acceptance, a nagging theme in her writ- 

Dworkin, like Kate Millett, has turned a garish history of mental 
instability into feminist grand opera. Dworkin publicly boasts of her 
bizarre multiple rapes, assaults, beatings, breakdowns and tacky 
traumas, as if her inability to cope with life were the patriarchy's 
fault rather than her own. She pretends to be a daring truth-teller 
but never mentions her most obvious problem: food. Hence she is 
a hypocrite. Dworkin's shrill, kvetching, solipsistic prose has a sloppy, 
squalling infantilism. This attracted MacKinnon, with her dour 
background of Protestant high seriousness, which treats children like 
miniature adults. MacKinnon's impersonal prose is dry, bleached, 
parched. Her hereditary north-country, anal-retentive style, stingy 
and nitpicking, was counterbalanced by Dworkin's raging undiffer- 
entiated orality, her buckets of chicken soup spiked with spite. 

Dworkin, wallowing in misery, is a "type" that I recognize after 
twenty-two years of teaching. I call her The Girl with the Eternal 
Cold. This was the pudgy, clumsy, whiny child at summer camp 
who was always spilling her milk, dropping her lollipop in the dirt, 
getting a cramp on the hike, a stone in her shoe, a bee in her hair. 
In college, this type — pasty, bilious, and frumpy — is constantly sick 
from fall to spring. She coughs and sneezes on everyone, is never 
prepared with tissue and sits sniffling in class with a roll of toilet 
paper on her lap. She is the ultimate teacher's pest, the morose, 
unlovable child who never got her mama's approval and therefore 
demands attention at any price. Dworkin seized on feminism as a 
mask to conceal her bitterness at this tedious, banal family drama. 

MacKinnon and Dworkin have become a pop duo, like Mutt 
and Jeff, Steve and Eydie, Ron and Nancy. MacKinnon, starved 

1 1 o 


and weather-beaten, is a fierce gargoyle of American Gothic. With 
her witchy tumbleweed hair, she resembles the batty, gritty pioneer 
woman played by Agnes Moorehead on The Twilight Zone. Or she's 
Nurse Diesel, the preachy secret sadist in Mel Brooks's High Anxiety. 

Dworkin is Pee-wee Herman's Large Marge, the demon trucker 
who keeps returning to the scene of her fatal accident. I see 
MacKinnon and Dworkin making a female buddy picture like Thelma 
& Louise. Their characters: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish, the 
puritan Gibson Girl and her fuming dybbuk, the glutton for pun- 
ishment. Or they'd be perfect for the starring roles in a TV docu- 
drama about prissy, repressed J. Edgar Hoover and his longtime 
companion, Clyde Tolson, bugging hotel rooms and sticking their 
noses into everyone's business. 

MacKinnon and Dworkin detest pornography because it sym- 
bolizes everything they don't understand and can't control about 
their own bodies. Current feminism, with its antiscience and social 
constructionist bias, never thinks about nature. Hence it cannot deal 
with sex, which begins in the body and is energized by instinctual 
drives. MacKinnon and Dworkin's basic error is in identifying por- 
nography with society, which they then simplistically define as pa- 
triarchal and oppressive. In fact, pornography, which erupts into 
the open in periods of personal freedom, shows the dark truth about 
nature, concealed by the artifices of civilization. Pornography is 
about lust, our animal reality that will never be fully tamed by love. 
Lust is elemental, aggressive, asocial. Pornography allows us to ex- 
plore our deepest, most forbidden selves. 

The MacKinnon-Dworkin party line on pornography is pre- 
posterous. "Pornography is sex discrimination," they declared in 
their Minneapolis ordinance. In a manifesto, they call pornography 
"hate literature." "Most women hate pornography; all pornography 
hates women." MacKinnon and Dworkin display an astounding 
ignorance of the ancient, sacred pornographic tradition of non- 
Western societies, as well as that of our own gay male culture. 
Dworkin's blanket condemnation of fellatio as disgusting and violent 
should make every man furious. 

MacKinnon and Dworkin are victim-mongers, ambulance chas- 
ers, atrocity addicts. MacKinnon begins every argument from big, 



flawed premises such as "male supremacy" or "misogyny," while 
Dworkin spouts glib Auschwitz metaphors at the drop of a bra. 
Here's one of their typical maxims: "The pornographers rank with 
Nazis and Klansmen in promoting hatred and violence." Anyone 
who could write such a sentence knows nothing about pornography 
or Nazism. Pornography does not cause rape or violence, which 
predate pornography by thousands of years. Rape and violence occur 
not because of patriarchal conditioning but because of the opposite, 
a breakdown of social controls. MacKinnon and Dworkin, like most 
feminists today, lack a general knowledge of criminology or psycho- 
pathology and hence have no perspective on or insight into the 
bloody, lurid human record, with its disasters and triumphs. 

In this mechanized technological world of steel and glass, the 
fires of sex have to be stoked. This is why pornography must continue 
to play a central role in our cultural life. Pornography is a pagan 
arena of beauty, vitality, and brutality, of the archaic vigor of nature. 
It should break every rule, offend all morality. Pornography rep- 
resents absolute freedom of imagination, as envisioned by the Ro- 
mantic poets. In arguing that a hypothetical physical safety on the 
streets should take precedence over the democratic principle of free 
speech, MacKinnon aligns herself with the authoritarian Soviet com- 
missars. She would lobotomize the village in order to save it. 

An enlightened feminism of the twenty-first century will embrace 
all sexuality and will turn away from the delusionalism, sanctimony, 
prudery, and male-bashing of the MacKinnon-Dworkin brigade. 
Women will never know who they are until they let men be men. 
Let's get rid of Infirmary Feminism, with its bedlam of belly achers, 
anorexics, bulimics, depressives, rape victims, and incest survivors. 
Feminism has become a catch-all vegetable drawer where bunches 
of clingy sob sisters can store their moldy neuroses. 

Pornography lets the body live in pagan glory, the lush, dis- 
orderly fullness of the flesh. When it defines man as the enemy, 
feminism is alienating women from their own bodies. MacKinnon 
never deals with woman as mother, lover, or whore. Snuff films are 
her puritan hallucinations of hellfire. She traffics in tales of terror, 
hysterical fantasies of death and dismemberment, which shows that 
she does not understand the great god Dionysus, with his terrible 



duality. The demons are within us. MacKinnon and Dworkin, ped- 
dling their diseased rhetoric, are in denial, and what they are block- 
ing is life itself, in all its grandeur and messiness. Let's send a message 
to the Mad Hatter and her dumpy dormouse to stop trying to run 
other people's tea parties. 


Washington had a sizzling hit show with "Walk the Goddess 
Walk: Power Inside Out," recently on view at the District of Co- 
lumbia Arts Center and curated by artist Alison Maddex. The Sep- 
tember 10 opening, featuring performance and video artists such as 
Manhattan drag queen Glennda Orgasm, drew a crowd of over a 

Above all, "Walk the Goddess Walk" demonstrated that, in 
the current unadventurous Washington art scene, there is a great 
craving for excitement and the challenge of something new. I sus- 
pect that we were also seeing a rejection of the political correct- 
ness that is stunting the cultural development of a whole generation 
of young women emerging from elite American colleges and uni- 

Like Maddex, with whom I collaborated in the show, I have 
despaired about the tendentiousness, ignorance, and mediocrity of 
feminist attitudes toward art and beauty. Issues of quality and stan- 
dards have been foolishly abandoned by liberals, who now interpret 
aesthetics as nothing but a mask for ideology. As a result, the far 

[The Washington Post, September 26, 1993] 



right has gained enormously. What madness is abroad in the land 
when only neoconservatives will defend the grandeur of art? 

Ironically, today's fashion magazines and supermodels, em- 
bodying the cult of beauty for a mass audience, are in the main line 
of art history. Cultural authenticity has shifted to them and away 
from the establishment ideologues like those running the Whitney 
Museum in New York, who are obsessed with a passe political 

When Maddex and I toured the Whitney's rape exhibit this 
summer, we were appalled and incredulous. Visitors were wandering 
around with tears in their eyes, as rape victims recited their sorrows 
on a video monitor. When the offerings of a major museum are 
indistinguishable from the victimization soap opera of television talk 
shows, art has ceased to exist. The intelligent, courageous artist and 
curator would defy the rape hysteria, not surrender to it. 

Danger signs are everywhere that we are sliding into a new era 
of the Red Guards. As I know from my visits to campuses across 
the country, abuse and intimidation await anyone who dares to reject 
the party line on sexual and political issues. There is a trend among 
followers of the ideas of Catharine MacKinnon which has resulted 
in vandalism of art works that fail to conform to feminist orthodoxy. 
The pro-sex wing of feminism sat around smugly for years, content 
that it had signed a list or two defending pornography and never 
realizing that its total silence on the date rape and sexual harrass- 
ment issues facilitated MacKinnon's rise. 

One of the many lies of women's studies is that European art 
history was written by white males and that feminism has conclu- 
sively rewritten that history by discovering and restoring major fe- 
male artists excluded from the pantheon by patriarchal conspiracy. 
But European art history was not just written but created by white 
males. We may lament the limitations placed on women's training 
and professional access in the past, but what is done cannot be 

The last twenty years of scholarship have brought many for- 
gotten women artists to attention, but too often their presentation 
has been marred by anachronistic feminist rhetoric. Nancy G. 
Heller's lucid, evenhanded Women Artists is a noteworthy exception 



to this depressing trend. Germaine Greer's The Obstacle Race regrett- 
ably veers again and again into agitprop, worst of all on the last 
page, where Greer declares that the reason there have been no great 
female artists is that you cannot get great art from "mutilated egos." 
I would argue that great art comes only from mutilated egos. 

Feminism, for all its boasts, has not found a single major female 
painter or sculptor to add to the canon. It did revive the reputations 
of many minor women, like Frida Kahlo or Romaine Brooks. Mary 
Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Helen Frankenthaler were known 
and did not need rediscovery. Artemisia Gentileschi was simply a 
polished, competent painter in a Baroque style created by men. 

Women's studies has not shifted the massive structure of art 
history one jot. It is scandalous that our most talented women un- 
dergraduates are being tutored in attitudes of juvenile resentment 
toward major male artists of the rank of Degas, Picasso, and Marcel 
Duchamp, who have become virtual untouchables. We will never 
get great art from women if their education exposes them only to 
the second-rate and if the idea of greatness itself is denied. Greatness 
is not a white male trick. Every important world civilization has 
defined its artistic tradition in elitist terms of distinction and excel- 

Now is the time for all pro-sex, pro-art, pro-beauty feminists to 
come out of the closet. Maddex and I have created what we call 
Neo-Sexism, or the New Sexism. It is a progressive feminism that 
embraces and celebrates all historical depictions of women, including 
the most luridly pornographic. It wants mythology without senti- 
mentality and every archetype, from mother to witch and whore, 
without censorship. It accepts and welcomes the testimony of men. 

The New Sexism puts sensuality at the center of our respon- 
siveness to life and art. Rejecting the bourgeois feminist obsession 
with anorexia and bulimia, it sets food and sex into the same con- 
tinuum of the pleasure principle. It calls for a new, vivid language 
of art criticism that reveres the art work instead of talking down to 
it. No more dead jargon and empty theory; no more ideology sub- 
stituting for appreciation; no more moralism masquerading as pol- 

All art belongs to its social context, but great art by definition 



transcends that context and speaks universally. Sex is one of the 
supreme subjects of art and literature of the last two hundred years. 
It deserves to be treated in a way that respects its mystery and 
complexity. That is what "Walk the Goddess Walk" tried to do. It 
was designed to overthrow the tyranny of false politics and to open 
the mind toward art — the spiritual and carnal record of mankind. 


Anyone concerned with the future of literature and art in Amer- 
ica should be repelled by that witches' brew of hypocrisy and 
sanctimony called "political correctness," which has poisoned the 
professional life of the elite colleges and universities. If there is to 
be a spiritual and intellectual revival, it is today's students who must 
do it. The academic establishment, paralyzed by cronyism, greed, 
and moral cowardice, is incapable of reforming itself. 

For twenty-five years, I have watched from a distance as Har- 
vard's distinguished tradition of literary scholarship has self- 
destructed. In 1968, when I left college (I attended the State Uni- 
versity of New York at Binghamton), the graduate English programs 
of Harvard and Yale were nationally rated as equivalent in stature. 
Accepted at both, I chose Yale rather than Harvard, since Harvard 
required graduate students to teach — a questionable practice that 
allowed senior faculty to minimize direct contact with undergrad- 

My Sixties generation, with its irreverence and confrontational 
style, was determined to make profound changes in America's po- 
litical and cultural life. Education in the humanities had become 

[Harvard Crimson, February 17, 1994] 

i i a 


narrow and desiccated, imprisoned by an overspecialized, over- 
departmentalized curricular structure. Those of us who were most 
influenced by popular culture, psychedelia, and the sexual revolution 
felt that the universities had lost touch with reality. We wanted to 
end authoritarian overcontrol of our private lives. And we were 
militant about free speech, which had launched the first student 
demonstrations at Berkeley. 

What is most disgusting about current political correctness on 
campus is that its proponents have managed to convince their stu- 
dents and the media that they are authentic Sixties radicals. The 
idea is preposterous. Political correctness, with its fascist speech 
codes and puritanical sexual regulations, is a travesty of Sixties 
progressive values. And except for the sociologist Todd Gitlin, not 
a single Sixties political activist holds a tenured professorship at any 
of the elite schools, coast to coast. 

On the contrary, the boldest and most original Sixties people 
either did not go on to graduate school or refused to play the sy- 
cophantic career game required for advance in academe. The ten- 
ured Ivy League literature faculty who are in their forties are 
chronologically my generation, but they made their way up the 
ladder not because they were of the Sixties but because there was 
nothing Sixties about them. I know, because I was in graduate school 
with these characters. They never challenged or threatened the status 
quo — which is exactly why they were handpicked to succeed the 
conservative old guard. 

In literary studies, text-centered New Criticism had reached a 
dead end and needed to be widened and deepened, through the 
study of history and sexuality, respectively. Important North Amer- 
ican writers who helped Sixties students to rechart the mental land- 
scape in an interdisciplinary way were Allen Ginsberg, Norman O. 
Brown, Marshall McLuhan, and Leslie Fiedler. But my fellow grad- 
uate students, far from absorbing these radical thinkers, were soon 
off chasing dull, pedantic European poststructuralists, who were 
trapped in cynical, verbose mind games that my generation had 
gotten rid of when we substituted Elvis Presley for Samuel Beckett 
(Foucault's idol). Despite their inflated reputations, none of the 
French theorists, including Foucault, is competent at speculation 



about either history or sexuality. Those who claim otherwise simply 
don't know what they're talking about. 

Let me give just one example of how the Ivy League awards its 
highest honors. A leading Harvard woman professor rose to prom- 
inence by her discipleship of Paul de Man and Derrida. Then it was 
revealed that de Man was a Nazi sympathizer. As deconstruction 
sank, she switched into feminism and African-American studies, 
neither of which her books had shown prior interest in. This was 
capped off by her dramatic avowal, at an October 1991 Harvard 
Yard rally, of her lesbianism, which is now chic. 

Excuse me for my contempt. As the only openly gay person at 
the Yale graduate school (1968-72), I paid the career price for my 
pre-Stonewall candor. Where were all these lesbians when it mat- 
tered? They stayed in the closet until tenure — and other people's 
sacrifices — made it safe to come out and claim the spoils. The then- 
bizarre themes of my dissertation — homosexuality, transvestism, 
transsexualism, sadomasochism — also ensured that no research uni- 
versity would hire me. I am just one of incalculable numbers of 
people of my generation whose fidelity to Sixties principles led to 
their exclusion from the establishment. That is tolerable, since we 
disdain money and status. What is intolerable is that frauds and 
poseurs, who rejected American culture to make shiny new gods out 
of French theorists, should now claim to be the heirs of Sixties 

The bottom fell out of the Harvard literature departments in 
the Seventies. They had failed to find new blood to continue Har- 
vard's reputation into the next generation, while Yale, after a bitter 
battle with undertones of anti-Semitism, secured Harold Bloom and 
Geoffrey Hartman, followed by established names from Johns Hop- 
kins. Harvard waited too long to respond to contemporary changes; 
no younger faculty came remotely near the great scholarly level of 
Harry Levin and Walter Jackson Bate. The English department 
nearly went into receivership. Ten years after I entered grad school, 
Harvard's reputation in literature hit rock bottom. 

Desperate, the Harvard administration went on a fast shopping 
expedition and filled the faculty with the current hot property, the- 
orists, many of them women, as an affirmative action sop. Now 

1 20 


you're stuck with them. Theory is moribund everywhere, but Har- 
vard, which sacrificed scholarly standards for expedience, has con- 
demned itself to at least two generations of mediocrity in the 
humanities, since these people are certain to hire only those who 
will prop up their decaying reputations. Harvard students are sadly 
mistaken if they think the literature faculty in their thirties and forties 
are the best America has to offer. It was the cliquish conference 
circuit, a crassly commercial phenomenon only twenty years old, 
that put those opportunistic trend-chasers in your classrooms. Under 
its hip varnish, their work is shoddy and shallow. 

When will Ivy League students wake up to the corruption that 
is all around them? The leftist press in America has been grossly 
negligent in not identifying and attacking the slick career system 
that has made deception, pretension, and manipulation business-as- 
usual in the humanities since the Seventies. Economic analysis 
should be the first principle of authentic leftism. Phony, obfuscatory, 
elitist French theory became the ticket to ride for an amoral coterie 
that is intricately interconnected from Berkeley to Duke to Princeton 
and Harvard. These days, they pretend to be doing "cultural 
studies," an amateurish mishmash of this and that, without scholarly 
command of any area. Student newspapers, which used to question 
authority and attack the establishment, have been lazily oblivious 
to a national scandal equal to that of the Wall Street junk-bond 

The solution is in your hands. You can bring learning back to 
the center of the university. You can end the era of gimmicky theory. 
You can demand that quality of scholarship, rather than slick word- 
play, be the standard for employment at Harvard. How? First make 
the library your teacher. Rediscover the now neglected works of the 
great scholars of the last 150 years, who worked blessedly free of the 
mental pollutants of poststructuralism. Immerse yourself in the ref- 
erence collection, and master chronology and etymology. Refuse to 
cooperate with the coercive ersatz humanitarianism that insultingly 
defines women and African-Americans as victims. Insist on free 
thought and free speech. OfTensiveness is a democratic right. The 
university should be organized around vigorous intellectual inquiry, 
not therapy or creature comforts. Harvard has become a nursing 
home for kids. 



I have elsewhere detailed my proposals for massive reform of 
the university: an end to departmentalization of literature by na- 
tionalities; sex studies, rather than the overideological and unscien- 
i tific women's studies and gay studies; and a world plan for a truly 
j scholarly and depoliticized multiculturalism, based on comparative 
religion, archaeology, art history, and anthropology. The liberal 
versus conservative argument is pointless and passe. Its rhetoric has 
simply concealed the venality and sycophancy of the academic mar- 
ketplace, which has in actuality driven the conflicts of the past fifteen 
years. In the twenty-first century, we will want something new. 
Today's students can create it. 


OBSERVER. Are you for or against censorship? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. I am opposed to censorship because of my over- 
arching theory that what we define — what tradition defines — 
as morally reprehensible and worthy of suppression is, in fact, 
the pagan element in Western culture that was never defeated. 
The elements of sex and violence that most disturb people, all 
the untidy and amoral forces of nature the pagan tradition was 
more honest about, are what the Judeo-Christian tradition has 
always struggled with. 

OBSERVER. Is there any case for censorship? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. There should be no censorship of any kind. On 
the other hand, I think one can raise questions of appropriate- 
ness. If you're teaching children, I think it is reasonable to 
believe that teachers should not impose their sophisticated sex- 
ual visions on them. I wouldn't call it censorship if a school 
said, "That's inappropriate for young children." 

[The Observer, London, April 10, 1994] 

1 22 


1 23 

OBSERVER. What is your position on the censorship of pornography? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. My point in Sexual Personae is that one cannot 
make any kind of firm line between high art and pornography. 
In fact, porn permeates the high art tradition. Even Michel- 
angelo's Pieta, the supreme artifact of the Vatican, is a work of 
pornography — when you look at it up close. 

OBSERVER. Does that mean all pornography should be freely avail- 
able to adults? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. I am on record as saying that one can reasonably 
restrict public displays of pornography. The public spaces, the 
free spaces, and so on belong to both traditions — the Judeo- 
Christian and the pagan — and, therefore, a person should not 
have to have naked ladies overwhelming the eye from a news- 
stand. On the other hand, those magazines should be available 
at the newsstand. 

I hate the way feminists in America have managed to pressure 
the drugstore chains so that you can no longer buy Playboy or 
Penthouse. The major men's magazines are all but censored, be- 
cause no one is able to find them outside the urban centers. This 
has occurred without a ripple over here. 


CAMILLE PAGLIA. There has been this incredible alliance between 
the feminists, the Catholic schools, and the far right. As a result, 
something very bad has happened. 

In the Sixties, part of what my generation did was the sexual 
revolution. Women of my period were bawdy in our speech. We 
were trying to break down the old middle-class conventions, and 
part of this was the fabulous sex magazines of the time — men 
and women looked at them. They were artistic, they were funky, 
they were radical in their politics. 

Also, you had middle-class women going with their boy- 
friends and husbands to porn theaters to see Deep Throat. That 
was a breakthrough. We'd never even heard about oral sex, 
much less seen it demonstrated. 

But now, in the puritanical revisionism of things, it's like Deep 

1 24 


Throat is the ultimate symbol of a woman being raped — being 
forced to perform oral sex. It's loathsome. There has been a 
horrible retreat into puritanism since the Sixties. 

OBSERVER. Is that a failing of imagination? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. My explanation is usually that the most interest- 
ing and innovative and bawdy members of my generation did 
not go on into the standard professions. They took drugs. They 
sort of cancelled themselves out. 

OBSERVER. What is your position on child pornography? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. I maintain that Donatello's David, one of the most 
important, revolutionary works in the whole history of art, is, 
in fact, a work of child pornography. 

Then there's the Valentine thing, the Valentine's Day Cupid 
with its plush infant body. That's an eroticization of the child's 
body that we're used to seeing. It goes back to ancient Rome, 
where you find babies presented as sensuous. 

Germaine Greer says in her book Sex and Destiny that non- 
Western cultures are very open about the kind of physicality 
they permit between adults and children. Pleasures are taken 
with children's bodies that would be defined, in our culture, as 
abuse or rape. 

OBSERVER. So it's a cultural issue, not a legal one? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. I believe that the abolition of child labor was one 
of the great reform movements of the last 200 years. If you have 
children posing for pornographic pictures and videos, that is an 
infringement — not of something sexual — but of what we now 
feel is civilized, that children should not be forced to labor. 

OBSERVER. Isn't that a dangerous opinion? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. As far as any visual, imaginary representations 
that are sketched or painted of children in pornographic acts — 
again, I'm considered pretty radical here, on the lunatic fringe 
with this one — I feel: so what? Anything that can be imagined 
should be depicted. 


1 25 

OBSERVER. Are you sure? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. I feel that that's the only way we can keep our- 
selves from sliding into dogmatism. To most people, these kinds 
of things are abhorrent. They can't look at them without being 
disturbed. So I feel that intellectuals and artists are obliged to 
force themselves to depict them, to write about them. 

That's why I'm a great fan of the Marquis de Sade. He was 
trying, in prison, to reach the limits of the human sexual imag- 
ination, and to put it down on paper. 

OBSERVER. You yourself were recently the subject of censorship over 
a film in which you confronted anti-porn campaigners on the 
streets of New York. Can you explain this? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. For years, these women have harassed people on 
the sidewalks in Greenwich Village. They hold out these pictures 
of women bound with ropes, from Hustler or wherever, and force 
them in people's faces and scream and yell. 

My sister, who lives there, says it's just appalling, because 
these women are forcing these images on people in the street 
when there are small children around. 

They're insane, literally insane. They're total fanatics, and 
anyone who has seen them in New York understands what I 
was doing — I mean, to go up to them and yell at them, to force 
the cameras on them, and — suddenly — they're just cowards. 

So this film, which has been shown at Sundance, the most 
prestigious film festival in the country, has been censored. It 
was suppressed by the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. 
A film made on the streets of New York! 

OBSERVER. What about self-censorship? 

CAMILLE PAGLIA. This is my rebuke to the white middle-class, re- 
spectable feminist movement. When I was last over in England 
I threw one of your prominent feminists right out of an interview. 
They are so pompous, so respectable — so self-censored. This is 
why they do all this complaining: "Why is it that the American 
feminists get all the attention? Why don't we get any attention?" 
Why? Because you're boring middle-class ladies. 

1 26 


OBSERVER. Don't feminists censor like everyone else? 

CAM IEEE PAGLIA. There is absolutely totalitarian censorship of any 
divergent or dissenting opinions within the world of women's 
studies. I couldn't get a job anywhere in the Seventies. When 
I came on the scene, if you ever breathed one word against 
women's studies — just opened your mouth — you were tarred as 
a male-chauvinist pig, as a reactionary, as a neo-conscrvative. 

( OBSERVER. Really? 

CAM IEEE PAGLIA. I love the situation in England, where you have 
the Page Three girls. I adore that. The idea that you open up 
a family newspaper and see all those bare boobs. That's abso- 
lutely fabulous, it's unheard of in America — it would be abso- 
lutely impossible. 



Two weeks ago, the discreet twelve-year relationship between 
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow exploded into public attention in a 
media firestorm of charges and countercharges. Day after day, 
screaming headlines documented the revelations: Allen had filed for 
custody of the couple's three small children; he had been accused 
of molestation of one of them in Connecticut; he admitted a sexual 
liaison with Farrow's adopted Korean daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, 
whose age has been variously reported as nineteen or twenty-one. 

After an initial period of confusion, most sensible people seemed 
willing to suspend judgment for the moment on the child abuse 
charge, in the absence of hard evidence. But on talk shows and in 
the print media, there was a thunderous chorus of condemnation of 
Allen for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Family therapists, feminists, 
and church-going conservatives called it callous, lecherous, inces- 
tuous, decadent. Woody Allen, one of feminism's great white hopes 
for the ideal "sensitive male," had flunked out. The lovable nerd 
was just another leering Nero. 

This controversy is a perfect thermometer for taking the tem- 
perature of the American psyche. Twenty-five years after the sexual 

[New York Newsday, December 2, 1992] 

1 29 

1 30 


revolution, what have we learned about ourselves? Practically noth- 
ing. Contrary to feminist propaganda, we have not found the answer 
to any important sexual issue. In fact, as the century ends, we have 
barely begun to pose the questions correctly. 

At his press conference two weeks ago, Woody Allen said there 
is "no logic" to falling in love. This ancient wisdom about the Dio- 
nysian irrationality of our emotional lives is documented in the ear- 
liest Greek and Roman love poetry. It is a great spiritual truth sadly 
missing from the ugly, clumsy ideology of current feminism, which 
is obsessed with social-welfare cliches of oppression, victimization 
and "care-giving." 

Woody Allen is an artist. To whom does he owe ultimate re- 
sponsibility? Since Romanticism, we have expected the artist not to 
celebrate God, king, family, and established values but to break 
taboos, to explore his or her deepest, most socially forbidden self. 
Though his films have weakened recently, Allen is one of the central 
analysts of contemporary American manners and sexual experience. 
It is outrageous that therapists, bystanders, and pundits of every 
stripe have used this painful crisis to strike hysterical poses of moral 
superiority over him. 

Picasso, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Madonna, Robert Map- 
plethorpe: during the past decade, each of these important artists 
has been denounced by holier-than-thou groups, from feminists to 
the Moral Majority, for their unsettling themes or bohemian life- 
styles. This provincial American abuse of artists must end. Neither 
art nor the artist will ever conform to bourgeois decorum or tidy 
moral codes. Originality is by definition rule-breaking. 

Allen's films, like Bananas, Love and Death, and Annie Hall, often 
show the comic inadequacy of words, reason, or good intentions to 
deal with the storminess of sex and love. In Broadway Danny Rose, 
he himself plays a gentle, earnest, compassionate bumbler over- 
whelmed by a flamboyant, vengeful Italian firecracker, wonderfully 
portrayed by Mia Farrow. 

Farrow seems to have carried this unexpected flair for Italian 
theatricality into her present life drama, in which she has managed 
to exert maximum power while deftly avoiding overt public state- 
ments. Dispatching a host of adult and pint-sized proxies as skillfully 
as Shakespeare's volatile Cleopatra, Farrow has fused Puccini her- 



oines: she is both the pining, abandoned mother, Madame Butterfly, 
and the tempestuous, jealous diva, Tosca, who uses any weapon 
that comes to hand. 

There has been an undertone of perversity or kinkiness in Far- 
row's sexual personae from the start of her career. Her May/ 
December marriage to Frank Sinatra still astonishes. Who can forget 
that first yacht-deck photo of the hard-bitten casino roue next to the 
androgynous gossamer waif? (Sinatra's ex, Ava Gardner, snapped, 
"I always knew Frank would end up with a boy.") In Secret Ceremony 
Farrow played a delusional girl-woman projecting a homoerotic in- 
cest fantasy onto a very patient Elizabeth Taylor. In Rosemary's Baby 
she fought for her pregnancy against the forces of darkness and oddly 
nosy neighbors on Central Park West. 

Motherhood is a far more complex phenomenon than the current 
brand of neat-as-pie yuppie feminism admits. Motherhood may un- 
leash primal instincts for possession and territoriality beyond mo- 
rality. Hovering vulturelike over the whole affair is Farrow's dowager 
queen mother, actress Maureen O'Sullivan, hurling Junoesque thun- 
derbolts at Allen (in her words, an "evil" man) from her stronghold 
on the West Coast. Farrow's sprawling, multiracial household is in 
its own way tribal and matriarchal. 

Allen is being impugned as an "immature" satyr with a Lolita 
fixation, like those other small-statured collectors of nymphets, Char- 
lie Chaplin and Roman Polanski. The pursuit of youth and beauty 
has also been an integral part of highly accomplished gay male life 
for centuries. Allen has the right to seek his muse wherever he may 
find her. The quiet, dreamy Soon-Yi, paternalistically trashed by 
the bleeding-heart commentators as "helpless," "passive," and 
"naive," may represent simplicity and emotional truth to Allen. Such 
insights, even if transient, are priceless to an artist. 

Is it incest? Legally, no. Psychologically, yes. But incest is a 
universal theme in world mythology that we have never come to 
terms with. Doing the research for Sexual Personae, I was stunned at 
the frequency of incest in Romantic literature. And incest permeates 
the two greatest plays ever written, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and 
Shakespeare's Hamlet. 

Freud's theory of infantile sexuality is a century old, yet it re- 
mains unabsorbed. Most parents could not function at home if they 

1 32 


fully accepted their children's sexuality. Our horrified fascination 
with the Allen/Farrow scandal comes partly from our own repres- 
sions. Similarly, the child-abuse witch-hunts focusing on day-care 
centers in recent years are baseless hallucinations, eruptions from 
our vestigial Anglo-Saxon puritanism. 

Woody Allen's love life began in the shadow of the potent Jewish 
mother, then evolved through brunette and blonde shiksa goddesses 
to an Asian Mona Lisa. Thus it is ironic that he who moved so far 
romantically from his Jewish roots should still end up accused of 
incest. Like Oedipus, he could not escape his fate. 

This sorry episode in the showbiz chronicles has much to teach 
us. Don't send your Valentines with a Betty Crocker stamp. Cruelty 
and brutality lie just beneath the surface of love. Intimacy and incest 
may be psychologically intertwined. Power relations may generate 
eroticism. Perhaps — bad news for sexual harassment rules — hier- 
archy can never be completely desexed. 

At his press conference, Woody Allen looked haggard and rum- 
pled, like a graduate student flushed out of an all-night study session. 
In giving anguished testimony about the mystery, compulsion, and 
folly of sexual attraction, he has recovered and renewed his cultural 
status: the artist as scapegoat, illuminating our lives through his 
own suffering. 


Amy Fisher is America's Diana, our tabloid princess. Many 
people at first ignored the case of the "Long Island Lolita," the 
seventeen-year-old high school senior who shot the wife of her thirty- 
eight-year-old lover in the head. But those who dismissed it as too 
trivial or vulgar were forced to take a second look when three different 
TV movies on the scandal were broadcast in a single week earlier 
this month, to smash ratings. 

Since it broke last May, the Amy Fisher story competed with 
the presidential campaign and threatened to upstage the inaugu- 
ration itself. Faced with this mass phenomenon, the establishment 
press responded only with disdainful bewilderment or pious hand- 
wringing over the debasement of popular taste and journalistic stan- 
dards. Enough crocodile tears were shed to float the African Queen. 

Like the recent fiasco of Zoe Baird's failed nomination as at- 
torney general, the Amy Fisher phenomenon dramatically demon- 
strates how out of touch the cultural elite is with popular thought. 
For years, mainstream feminists have shrilly hammered at us about 
date rape, sexual harassment, and child abuse. They have portrayed 

[San Francisco Examiner, January 31, 1993] 

1 33 

1 34 


life under ''patriarchy" as a tear-stained melodrama of lecherous 
male tyrants and passive female victims. 

The feminist inquisitors tirelessly pounce on whipping-boys-of- 
the-month — philandering Senator Bob Packwood is their latest de- 
monic centerfold — but the popular imagination keeps stubbornly 
rejecting their simplistic sexual scenario and refreshing itself in tab- 
loid truth. The instant myth of Amy Fisher turned feminist dogma 
on its head: as in the hit films Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and The 
Hand That Rocks the Cradle, woman rules and destroys. The femme 
fa tale is for real. 

Early commentators on the Fisher case tried to reduce it to pat 
social-welfare formulas. There was the usual hunting-for-victims that 
has become such a tedious substitute for analysis in America. Was 
man-of-the-people Joey Buttafuoco the victim of a wily little tramp? 
Or was Amy the naive victim of a slick gigolo who had his jollies 
and got off scot-free, while the women suffered? And surely some- 
where in Amy's childhood there had to be "abuse" — the feminist 
stock response to anything ambiguous in human behavior. 

When long-haired Amy, spoiled only child, mall chick and part- 
time call-girl, mounted the Buttafuoco porch with a pistol in her 
pocket, every power play in the history of love was on red alert. It 
was high noon on a Tennessee Williams veranda. Though reviewers 
ineptly hailed the meandering ABC movie, starring scrumptious 
Drew Barrymore, as the best of the three, it was in fact only the first 
version, NBC's tightly paced "Amy Fisher: My Story," featuring 
the unheralded Noelle Parker, that got it right. 

Amy vs. Mary Jo Buttafuoco on the porch was a trash tango, 
a clash of the female titans. Joey, the absent ostensible subject, 
shrank to nothing. He is a poof man, a stud muffin, a big calzone. 
Amy and Mary Jo faced off in a street fight, a territorial war for 
possession of sexual property. The NBC movie showed mutual in- 
sults escalating into clumsy violence, which exploded out of the 
normal and ordinary. It was terrifying. 

In my opinion, the crucial element in this story is Mary Jo's 
refusal to leave her husband, despite her facial paralysis and the 
bullet now permanently in her head. People would long ago have 
lost interest without this detail, which is more unique and perplexing 


1 35 

than the standard mystery-tale motif of how-much-did-the-husband- 
know about the murder plot in advance. 

Fresh from the hospital, Mary Jo, mouth distorted, harangued 
a mob of skeptical reporters on the porch, bitterly denouncing Amy 
Fisher and defending the virtue of her spouse. She even sang praises 
about their "better than ever" sex life on Howard Stern's radio show. 
It was an astonishing display of female triumph of the will. A be- 
trayed wife had won back her man and defeated her younger com- 

On the Donahue show a few weeks ago, Mary Jo sat serenely by 
her husband, who proclaimed his innocence against a hostile au- 
dience and the host himself, who called him 4 'the most hated man 
in America. " But Joey Buttafuoco is just a puppet maneuvered by 
a maternal dominatrix, who has pulled him back into the domestic 
orbit as the third of her children. Her head wound is the battle scar 
of a total victory. 

At the end of the Donahue show, Mary Jo's Irish mother stood 
up and spat defiance at the crowd. Joey "wouldn't be sitting up 
there" — alive on this planet was the implication — if she thought he 
had hurt her daughter. Mother and daughter had eerily the same 
face, a grimly downturned mouth chiseled on a boxer's jaw. The 
feminist view of male oppression is naive. Woman is dominant. 

The child-abuse obsession of the past decade, which plastered 
pictures of missing tots on milk cartons and now induces unknowns 
and celebrities to make public confessions of miraculously restored 
memories of ancient molestation, is predicated on a black-and-white 
paradigm of adult defilement of childhood innocence. The Lolita 
archetype is the fascinating heart of the Amy Fisher case. Lolita is 
not merely a male fantasy. A man — novelist Vladimir Nabokov — 
may have named her, but she is drawn from life. 

Lolita melts the sexual borderline that society has artificially 
drawn between child and adult. She is as conscious, willful, and 
manipulative as any mature woman. In Amy Fisher we saw Lolita 
in action, spinning her erotic spells from the high-school girls' room 
to the auto body shop. More power to her. Sitting in jail, she is 
paying the price for her daring pirate raids on respectability and 

1 36 


The Amy Fisher case shows the limitations of current feminist 
thinking about sex. Neither mainstream nor academic feminists are 
comfortable with the kind of aggressive, sleazy eroticism flaunted 
by Amy and her paramours. Genteel middle-class feminists cannot 
understand the cocky, swaggering, working-class masculinity of Joey 
Buttafuoco, which is far more important and universal than the 
cowed less-than-manhood of the polite white-collar wordsmiths who 
have swallowed the feminist line in academe and the media. 

The official rhetoric of the cultural elite is completely out of 
sync with the actual evidence of experience. In sentencing her to 
five to fifteen years in prison for first-degree assault, the judge told 
Amy that she was "motivated by lust and passion" and had pursued 
Mary Jo "like a wild animal stalks its prey." The sex impulse, 
uncontrolled in its natural state, is barbaric. Feminism has got to 
look honestly at the animal savagery and lust in all of us and stop 
blaming men for the darkness of the human condition. 


As a guest of the British Broadcasting Company, which is doing 
a documentary on her, I recently saw Sandra Bernhardt new show, 
Giving Till It Hurts, at New York's Paramount Theater. From its 
campy celebration of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls to its 
prayer to San Francisco's late great Sylvester, the drag king of disco, 
I felt that I was seeing my own spiritual autobiography unfold before 
my eyes. 

Bernhard's career has surged forward in the last two years after 
a long period in which she never stopped working but seemed to 
many people to be wasting her talent in erratic, self-indulgent dis- 
plays of chic cynicism. Bernhard first gained broad public attention 
for her brilliant performance as a terrifyingly seductive sociopath in 
Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983), which earned her a 
permanent place in film history. 

Like Jessica Walter after her dazzling performance as a violent 
erotomaniac in Play Misty for Me, Bernhard was shortchanged by 
Hollywood, which never came up with the kind of meaty film noir 
roles she deserved. Bernhard continued doing her strange brand of 
performance art in comedy clubs around the country, but unfortu- 

[San Francisco Examiner, December 6, 1992] 

1 38 


nately the way she stayed in the national eye was through some two- 
dozen unsettling television appearances on the David Letterman 

I happen to detest David Letterman as the essence of cheap, 
snide, adolescent, white-bread humor. At first, I forced myself to 
watch the show if Bernhard was on but, upset and horrified, finally 
gave up. Jittery and wild-eyed, she seemed to be on an express train 
to self-destruction. 

In 1986, Bernhard began collaborating with writer-director John 
Boskovich, leading up to the first of her two shows, Without You I'm 
Nothing, which was made into a movie in 1990. During the show's 
six-month run in New York in 1988, Bernhard met Madonna, and 
the two cavorted around town as prankish "gal pals." Were they 
lovers or not? The tabloids had a field day. 

In the past year Bernhard became a regular on Roseanne, the 
top-rated mainstream sitcom, but retained her on-the-edge flair by 
posing nude for Playboy and hosting a bizarre HBO party special 
with a garish Fellini decadence. 

With her new stage show, Bernhard has emerged as a more 
mature and confident star. The undertone of bitterness and disil- 
lusion that ran through her early career seems gone. Her romantic 
disappointments have deepened her as a performer. 

As a sexual persona, Bernhard is unique in the contemporary 
arts. She is completely American. No other country can produce this 
kind of brashly individualistic woman, harsh, aggressive, raunchy 
and physical, with an imagination drenched in thirty flamboyant 
years of popular culture. 

My sense of identification with Bernhard's volatile worldview 
comes partly from a shared ethnic history. Suburbia, which flowered 
after World War II, is still insufficiently understood. It was here 
that the rich, ethnic, extended families collapsed into the tense, 
isolated nuclear family, which tried to sanitize itself into conventional 
American normality. 

The repressions of suburbia have produced Bernhard, Ma- 
donna, and me. Half of us is a nice suburban girl; the other half is 
a raving pornographic maniac, the beast buried in the cellar. 

Bernhard's creativity springs from these cultural conflicts. Her 


1 39 

Jewish family, with its East Coast sensibility, was transplanted from 
Michigan to Arizona. Like Bette Midler growing up in Hawaii, 
Bernhard was an alien. 

Her geographical displacement was intensified by a gender dis- 
placement. In her new show, Bernhard speaks of her teen-age an- 
guish over her period not beginning until she was seventeen. Too 
tall and neither blond nor cute, Bernhard was not destined for prom 

Bernhard's act is shot through with autobiographical musings, 
the seething longings and glamourous dreams of a prisoner in the 
pleasant suburban wasteland. Like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, 
she is a Confessional poet. But Bernhard has turned Confessionalism 
away from suicide and toward comedy, a mode of survival and 
redemption rather than loss. 

American stand-up comedy began in vaudeville and was trans- 
formed into social commentary by Lenny Bruce. There was a pen- 
etrating style of Jewish intellectuality, typified by Mike Nichols and 
Elaine May and the early Joan Rivers, that regrettably has gone out 
of fashion in comedy in the past fifteen years. Joy Behar, with her 
devastating Catherine Deneuve parodies, briefly revived it but 
seemed to lose interest. 

Sandra Bernhard has Lenny Bruce's brooding menace and quick, 
razor-sharp mind. She re-creates the brainy neuroticism and earthy 
sensuality of Beatnik women, with their gloomy hipster realism. By 
her gutsy insistence on singing — in an ever-improving but often thin 
or fractured voice — Bernhard has rejoined stand-up to its origins in 
vaudeville, where music and comedy were brassily interwoven. 

All musical styles of the past quarter century are evoked in 
Bernhard's shows: jazz, Broadway, country, rock, soul, Motown, 
disco, as ingeniously reinterpreted by a Jewish rapper. It's a vast 
aural spectacle. For my Sixties generation, cultural history is popular 
music, in a way incomprehensible in Europe. 

Fragments of ads, brand names, movies, TV, and celebrity gos- 
sip float through Bernhard's routines. But her technique is not the 
tiresome sterile irony of postmodernist "appropriation." On the con- 
trary, she daringly explores a raw, stormy emotionalism, sudden 
tantrums that repel or terrify. 

1 AO 


The task of the artist and intellectual at the end of the century 
is to rework the discontinuities of our lives into new wholes. How 
can we clarify our thinking about this pagan Age of Hollywood? 
French and German theory won't do. We need a native language 
of sensory analysis. 

Bernhardt operatic surrealism is a good start in this direction. 
She combines the modernist themes of desolation and abandonment 
with the spirituality of black music and the hostile but affirmative 
energies of rock. She has the sophisticated worldliness of gay men 
and the gorgeous theatricality of drag queens. With Boskovich, she 
is rescuing gay identity from its excessive politicization and reorient- 
ing it toward culture. 

Above all, Bernhard is reinventing feminism. While the once- 
pioneering Lily Tomlin has become the high priestess of political 
correctness, Bernhard embraces the great female personae excluded 
by the prudish Stcinem politburo: bitch, stripper, whore, lady, fash- 
ion model. 

The evolved Bernhard is a wonderful influence on young au- 
diences. Her new feminist is a powerful, self-reliant personality with 
a sharp, bawdy tongue. Like the drag queen, she can defend herself 
without running to grievance committees. Whether lesbian or bi- 
sexual, she accepts and respects male lust without trying to censor 
it. And she knows that comedy is the best road to truth. 


One of the supreme moments in recent popular entertainment 
was when Barbra Streisand sang ' 'Evergreen" for Bill Clinton at his 
inauguration gala. All of her American fans were saying to ourselves: 
"Look at what we've missed for the past twenty-five years!" She 
looked spectacular, wearing a business suit with big padded shoul- 
ders and a long skirt slit up the thigh. I was delirious. She was all 
man and all woman. 

It was a return to her roots, to the unconventional, somewhat 
androgynous persona she had at the beginning of her career in the 
early 1960s. She's gone full circle. There is a wonderful unity and 
simplicity about Streisand's current persona. Even her speaking style 
has been resimplified and become clearer and stronger. I love the 
fact that she's retaken the public stage as a political figure. Until a 
couple of years ago, when she made The Prince of Tides, many people 
were tired of her. I was impatient with her erratic productivity and 
the middlebrow drift of her taste. But now she is a splendid role 
model for women: a mega-celebrity who is also politically engaged. 

[An interview with Rebecca Mead, cover story, Sunday Times magazine, 
London, May 30, 1993. Another article by Paglia on Streisand appeared 
too late for inclusion in this volume: The New Republic, July 18, 1994.] 

1 42 


Many people question her motives and find her posture ludi- 
crous. They say that she's getting involved in politics for the sake 
of fashion, trimming her sails for the moment, that she's a White 
House sycophant and hanger-on. But in point of fact, her political 
commitment long predates the rise of Clinton. She is an authentic 
heir of leftist politics in America. Her beliefs can be traced to her 
origins in ethnic, working-class Brooklyn. She came out of the cru- 
cible of Jewish political activism. 

Streisand's radical politics go back to the passionate Jewish 
liberalism that pervaded 1950s avant-garde circles and descended 
in turn from labor-union agitation in the 1930s. Greenwich Village 
in the late 1950s and early 1960s was seething with folk singers, and 
many of the populist songs being performed in coffee houses were 
labor protest songs of the 1930s. In a sense, Streisand is coming out 
of that. Even her crisp, emphatic diction is immediately recognizable 
as the old voice of Jewish political activism. 

When she first exploded upon the world in the early 1960s in 
Funny Girl, what Streisand represented was an electrifying new in- 
dividualism that looked forward to the Sixties counterculture. The 
nonconformism of her sexual persona was so radical compared to 
what we had been raised with for the prior fifteen years, with all 
those cheerful, sanitized blondes, such as Doris Day and Debbie 
Reynolds. There was a whole series of blonde nymphettes, such as 
Carol Lynley and Sandra Dee, prefiguring the Barbie doll. They 
were sweet, docile, winsome, harmless, very attentive and deferential 
to men. 

What was so amazing about Streisand was her aggressive eth- 
nicity. The Nose, which she refused to have changed, was so defiantly 
ethnic. It was a truly revolutionary persona. She was a brilliant new 
icon of modern womanhood. She was the first public figure to wear 
retro clothes from the 1930s. This "thrift-shop look" became a hippie 
style later adopted by Janis Joplin. Streisand made the cover of Time 
magazine as a gamine waifish outsider and then was treated my- 
thologically by Life magazine; she posed as a haughty Nefertiti and 
as a Regency siren in Greek dress. 

While in high school, I went through a rabid Streisand period, 
when I slept on giant rollers to get my hair like hers and had long 
nails with plum polish. Early Streisand remains for me the best 


1 43 

Streisand. She visibly seethed with emotion. When drag queens 
imitate her, it's always from that period, with that smooth, sleek 
helmet hair, when she was still singing in cabarets. 

There has always been a conflict in Barbra Streisand, as in 
Oscar Wilde, between her populist politics and her aristocratic and 
tyrannical persona. In early pictures, with her hair swept back, she 
looks so grand, like a Russian duchess. This is what gay guys liked 
about her — the arrogant, monarchical divahood, which is definitely 
not democratic. Streisand has always been a kind of drag queen 
herself. That's true of Sandra Bernhard too, and it's true of me and 
of a lot of women who didn't feel particularly feminine when they 
were growing up. For women like that, by the time you figure out 
what femininity is, you've become a female impersonator. 

I've written in Sexual Personae that all the great stars imitated 
by gay men — Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Diana Ross, 
Joan Collins, and Barbra Streisand — are androgynous. They are 
men-women, with this tremendous duality. That's why their ro- 
mantic relationships are so bad, because they are autocratic and 
autonomous. As artists, they need no one else. 

I was so excited when it was announced that Streisand would 
appear in male drag in Yentl (1983). But she pulled her punches, 
and I was disappointed. Amy Irving, playing the girl who fell in 
love with Streisand as the disguised yeshiva student, was meltingly 
sexual, but when it came to the kiss, Streisand shrouded it in shadow. 
She undercut her own persona. There is a male part of her that is 
palpably there, but she's unwilling to really go for it. Perhaps she 
is so uncertain of her sexuality that she fears compromising it. 

Streisand's insecurity about her sexual attractiveness is probably 
one of the reasons she stopped performing live for two decades. 
Audiences had started to call her "cold" on stage. She always felt 
like the homely, cross-eyed child from Brooklyn. But how rare it 
was to have the nonconformist ugly duckling elevated to the central 
role of major Hollywood films. When Streisand appeared in The Way 
We Were (1973) with Robert Redford, people cattily commented on 
how much prettier the male star was than the female. Probably it 
was psychologically important for Streisand to withdraw in the 1970s 
and 1980s and become a hausfrau. She wanted to live like a real 
woman, and to be desired like one. 

1 44 


Unfortunately, she eclipsed her own persona in that domestic 
period, when she was constantly redecorating and meat-shopping 
and cooking for her man. It was embarrassing. She had reverted to 
convention and become what the 1950s wanted us to be, a housewife 
and mother. I suffered every time I saw her in that atrocious mop 
of curls. She looked terrible. 

Her longtime boyfriend, hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Pe- 
ters, first got to Streisand when he was visiting her house and said, 
as she was walking in front of him, "Nice ass." She was thrilled that 
a good-looking man was relating to her as a sexual being, because 
she was very insecure about this. 

In terms of twentieth-century popular culture, Streisand is a 
unique sexual persona. Fanny Brice, whom she was playing in Funny 
Girl, was a superb stage comedian, but she never had the status of 
a sexual being. There are different ways to break conventions, of 
course. Jean Harlow did a slutty, trashy kind of thing: she had a 
working-class street sexuality that sharply contrasted with the ele- 
gant cosmopolitanism of her Hollywood contemporaries. Streisand's 
greatness is that she was able to inject the madcap Fanny Brice 
persona with all the sensuality and glamour of the great stars. 

To me, Streisand is a duchess, a queen, a tyrant. That is the 
persona she created in Hollywood. She has a reputation for being 
a bitch because of her perfectionism and desire for total control over 
every production. She is like Catherine the Great, a woman of au- 
tocratic power, who ruled alone and was a shrewd political operator, 
intolerant of any invasion of her turf. 

Streisand's craving for autonomy became a problem for her, 
since she never learned how to collaborate. The same thing has 
happened to Madonna. Such artists start out so individualistic, fol- 
lowing their own instincts; but the point comes when they are so 
used to doing their own thing and not seeking advice from good 
people that they screw up. It happened with Madonna over the 
disastrous Sex book, and it happened with Streisand in A Star Is Born 
(1976) — a fascinating film but in many ways ludicrous; she was both 
the star and the producer. 

Streisand is in the Katharine Hepburn/Bette Davis tradition of 
women who just spoke out and took the consequences. She is some- 
one who is totally self-determined and doesn't care what people think 


1 45 

of her. Streisand's on-screen persona is quite unlike that of either 
Hepburn or Davis, but the way those stars defined the Hollywood 
establishment in the 1930s and 1940s is very much like Streisand's 
independent off-screen persona. Streisand's predecessors are prewar; 
no one was behaving like that after the war. 

While Streisand has to be respected for the genuineness of her 
political beliefs, one is entitled to be somewhat skeptical of any 
ambitions she might have for elective office (the rumors are incon- 
clusive about this). The idea of Senator Streisand may be risible. 
At this point, it is absurd, inconceivable. She has not lived the 
political life and learned the skills of negotiation and compromise 
that you need to succeed in office and to communicate with ordinary 

I think Streisand is a Jesse Jackson figure, someone who is not 
very good at the day-to-day grind and banal minutiae of being a 
politician but who has a gift for giving big, stirring, kick-in-the-ass 
speeches that move multitudes. Now, at midlife and seasoned by 
experience, Streisand has a great public role to play, even if you 
don't agree with what she is saying. For example, even those who 
support gay liberation, as I do, may not agree with her controversial 
call for a boycott of the entire state of Colorado because of an anti- 
gay law passed there. 

Streisand has now become a grande dame, like Lady Bracknell 
in The Importance of Being Earnest. The thundering majesty of the 
Victorian dowagers has been sadly missing from women's sexual 
personae throughout the twentieth century. Streisand's imperious 
oratorical manner seems wonderful to me, as a feminist who has 
been trying to bury forever our Doris Day-Debbie Reynolds past. 


A girl's hand drops a needle onto a spinning 45 rpm disk in a tiny box record 
player. Sarah Vaughan's rahishly flirtatious "Let's" begins to play, as the 
camera pulls back to show a pubescent blonde girl in denim pedal pushers , 
ankle sox, and ballerina slippers, leafing through movie magazines. Absent- 
mindedly twirling her hair around her fingers, she lies on her stomach, with 
her feet up and her ankles fetchingly crossed. Perched on the open lid of the 
record player are a pair of red-rimmed, heart-shaped sunglasses. Cut to a 
darkened, shrine-like set hung with a large yellow painting of the face of an 
adolescent girl wearing the same sunglasses. Her eyes peer provocatively over 
the green glass, and there is a bright blue lollipop resting between her parted, 
sensuous, very red lips. Across the top of the painting, the name "Lolita" is 
scrawled like a signature, with a heart dotting the "i. " CAMILLE PAG LI A, 
in black sweater and pants, steps out of the shadows and mounts the platform 
in a somewhat pugnacious manner. 

CAMILLE PAGLIA: Nabokov's novel is a final corruption of the tra- 
dition of the veneration of the child that in fact was created by 
Rousseau and Wordsworth at the birth of Romanticism. The 

[A Rapido TV production for World Without Walls, Channel 4, London. 
Produced and directed by Peter Stuart. Aired May 11, 1993.] 


1 47 

child was now considered sexless and saintly. Freud tried a 
hundred years ago to redefine the infant and child as fully sexual, 
but that idea has never taken. It is too appalling to most parents 
to really imagine that there's a sexual dynamic going on between 
themselves and their children. So this, as far as I'm concerned, 
this motif of childhood sexuality, is the last taboo. 

( Cut to 1966 black-and-white film of a relaxed VLADIMIR NABOKOV, wear- 
ing eyeglasses, dramatically reading from a copy o/" Lolita (1955), open on a 
table before him.) 

VLADIMIR NABOKOV: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My 
sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of 
three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. 
Lee. Ta." 

( Cut to shot of the page, then back to PAGLIA on set.) 

PAGLIA: "Lola" is traditionally a great name — as in Lola Montez — 
for a courtesan figure, going back to the nineteenth century and 
in fact earlier. "Lolita," the diminutive, already implies a kind 
of infantilization of this figure of adult sexuality. So I think 
there's a kind of child's play, a sort of breaking of the taboo, a 
profanation of childhood language, nursery rhymes even in the 
name "Lo-lee-ta" (draws it out lasciviously). 

(Cut to black-and-white newsreel footage of the premiere of the film of Lolita 
in New York in 1961. Stentorian, Walter Winchell-like commentary by MI- 
CHAEL FITZMAURICE for News of the Day. Headline: "Lights! Cameras! 
Premiere in Manhattan." Pan of Times Square on a rainy evening. Under the 
huge marquee of Loew's State are crowds behind police barriers and surging 
photographers popping flashbulbs.) 

MICHAEL FITZMAURICE: Broadway at dusk! And as the lights go 
on, the News of the Day camera records the welcome for Lolita, 
the film the whole town's talking about! There is acclaim in the 
film world for Stanley Kubrick, director of Lolita, arriving with 
Mrs. Kubrick. (Film of the Kubricks exiting their limousine. An um- 
brella is held out by a uniformed male usher wearing Lolita 9 s heart-shaped 
glasses.) And now, Sue Lyon and James Mason. The capable 
young actress, who was fourteen when she received the nod to 

1 48 


play the title role in Lolita, shares the plaudits of the critics and 
movie fans with Mr. Mason, a veteran of many great starring 
performances. (Sue Lyon, in a sensational platinum-blonde bubble 
hairdo, is paternally supported by the suave James Mason. Also visible 
are Joan Fontaine, in a chignon and fur stole, escorted by Robert Stack.) 

(Cut to stark black-and-white movie promo: "How did they make a movie 
of. . . Lolita?" Collage of Sue Lyon- as -Lolita photos flash by. Cut to London 
journalist SUZANNE MOORE.J 

SUZANNE MOORE: When I think of Lolita, I always think of those 
heart-shaped sunglasses. When my young daughter wanted 
some sunglasses, we went into the shop, and they had all dif- 
ferent shapes — they had heart shapes and star shapes, you know, 
for thirty pence, kids' plastic sunglasses. And I bought her — 
she was really little, about two or three, I think — these little 
heart-shaped ones, and this friend of mine said, "What are you 
doing? What are you doing, putting those on her?'" Because for 
him it just signified so strongly a kind of sexual — a sexualization. 
It was the equivalent of putting a little girl in stockings or 
something. It just wasn't done. 

(Cut to the most famous scene from the film, Lolita. In a bikini, sunglasses, 
and huge sunhat, Sue Lyon is languorously stretched out on the lawn, reading 
while her transistor radio blares Nelson Riddle's "Lolita Ya Ya. " The raucous 
voice of Shelley Winters as her landlady-mother is heard extolling the virtues 
of the establishment to a prospective tenant, James Mason as HUMBERT 

CHARLOTTE (Lolita s mother): My flowers win prizes around here! 
They're the talk of the neighborhood. Voila! My yellow roses, 
my — uh, oh — my daughter. Darling, turn that down, please. 
(HUMBERT, startled and immediately transfixed, stares at LOLITA. 
Turning down the radio with a petulant moue, she returns his gaze un- 
flinchingly, then slowly removes her sunglasses. They continue staring, as 
her mother chatters on.) I can offer you a comfortable home, a 
sunny garden, a congenial atmosphere, my cherry pies — 

HUMBERT (dumbfounded): Well, uh 


1 49 

( Cut to author ANNE RICE, regally seated in a sumptuous green-velvet chair 
next to a fireplace with a crackling blaze.) 

ANNE RICE: What Lolita has become today is the image of the se- 
ductive young girl who is every man's dream of sensuality. That 
wasn't what the real Lolita was in Nabokov's novel at all. She 
was a very ordinary girl who didn't herself have profound sexual 
feelings and never really enjoyed the illicit relationship with 
Humbert Humbert, but that's been forgotten. When people 
speak of a Lolita today, they mean (she grins) a hot little number. 

( Cut to a montage of art works showing blossoming young girls in subliminally 
or overtly provocative poses: Jourdan's The Young Sea Nymph (1870), 
Bouguereau's On the Bank of the Ruisseau (1888), Mary Cassatt's Little 
Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), Balthus' Katia Reading (1976).) 

PAGLIA (on set): Culture seems to follow patterns of innocence and 
then cynicism. Because even in our own time there has been a 
great evolution in our attitudes toward what is now called child 
pornography. Many of the great art works of the Renaissance 
had kiddie porn elements, in particular the great David of Don- 
atello (statue shown), which today would get Donatello arrested 
and taken off in a paddy wagon! In the mid-nineteenth century 
there was a tradition of painters and photographers, like Lewis 
Carroll, for taking pictures of young girls totally nude (a montage 
of seven photos) or placed in historical situations, with costumes 
and so on revealing the nude body in ways that would seem to 
us today, after Freud, as enormously perverse and sexualized. 
But this is part of the tradition of Romanticism, of looking at 
woman and the female principle as being innocent and pure. 
It's part of the heritage of Rousseau and Wordsworth. Such 
things are impossible now, because we have so resexualized the 
image of the child. This is a profound cultural problem that we 
still are wrestling with. 

(Cut to The Face magazine cover of Kate Moss, proclaimed "This year's 
model." Cut to KEVIN KOLLENDA, model agent for Take 2.) 

KEVIN KOLLENDA: I think there is a definite Lolita syndrome we're 
seeing in fashion today. You're seeing an innocence reborn. It's 

1 so 


the doey-eyed expression, the beautiful lips, the clear skin, the 
freshness. (Magazine covers shown.) And I think that's why the 
market's gone out after it — because it's a whole new approach. 
There are girls that nobody's ever seen before. (Film of Jocelyn, 
a new "waif" model, at a photo shoot.) There is the woman inside 
her that comes out. And I think that's needed in the photos, 
because otherwise it would look like a little girl wearing Mom- 
my's clothes or wearing some older woman's clothes. There is 
the knowing in her eyes, the awareness of her womanhood, of 
her sexuality that I think is combined with her youthfulness. I 
think that's the magic of this whole look right now. It is quite 
virginal, the whole approach. It's very new; it's very clean. It's 
very moralistic — in a world that maybe right now is lacking in 
some morals! 

(Cut to a bubbling bottle of Coca-Cola. The camera pans up to reveal moist 
red lips suggestively wrapped around a straw.) 

PAGLIA: The 1950s were a period when young girls were expected 
to be virgins in America. Then my generation of the 1960s broke 
through and was overtly sexual. Now what's happened in the 
generation since the 1960s is quite remarkable. There has been 
a lowering of the age of overt sexuality in the personae of young 
women in America. There's a kind of shopping-mall style in 
junior-high-school and high-school girls that has led to the Amy 
Fisher case in this country. 

(Cut to television news film of Fisher's 1992 sentencing.) 

BAILIFF: All rise! 

VOICE OF REPORTER (ABC's Jeff Greenfield): When eighteen-year-old 
Amy Fisher was sentenced today for shooting the wife of her 
alleged lover, the judge acknowledged the obvious. 

JUDGE: To some people, you have become a media celebrity. 

PAGLIA (on set): Amy Fisher, in her personal style — a kind of slutty, 
trashy shopping-mall style — absolutely embodies the American 
version of Lolita. Right from early on, headlines in America 
were screaming "Long Island Lolita." (Front pages of New York 

Post, Daily News, andNew York Newsday: "Young Gun/' "Laugh- 
ing Lolita," "D-Dayfor Amy/ 3 "Why was I ever born?") It was an 
amazing resurgence of this image in popular culture here. I think 
what's so fascinating to me in the Amy Fisher case is the way 
you have this face-off on a porch between this seventeen-year- 
old girl and this suburban mother, and they were fighting, es- 
sentially, for territoriality over this man, all right? (Film of Mary 
Jo Buttafuoco, the wounded wife, pressing through a mob of reporters in 
the courthouse hallway. Then Joey Buttafuoco cursing photographers out- 
side his Long Island home.) Every one of these great crime stories 
or great sexually sensationalistic stories is showing the actual 
reality — the unstable reality of human sexuality. 

(Back to Fisher's sentencing. Somewhat rumpled and nervous, she listens to 
the judge's statement, her face a strange mixture of fear and fascination.) 

JUDGE: Motivated by lust and passion, you were a walking stick of 
dynamite with the fuse lit. 

( On screen: "Amy Fisher is serving five to fifteen years for attempted murder. ") 

PAGLIA: Nabokov's Lolita, which seemed very sensationalistic and out 
of sync with the times in the mid-1950s, now seems to be almost 
a documentary record of the kind of pornographic real-life cases 
that have spilled over into the media in the Nineties. 

( Cut to amusing clip from the film Lolita. HUMBERT is wedged between 
LOLITA and her mother in the front seat of a car at a drive-in, where a horror 
movie is playing. As screams peal from the screen, both women clutch at 
HUMBERT^ knee. LOLITA — to her mother's surprise and annoyance — ends 
up with HUMBERTS hands sandwiched between her own.) 

ANNE RICE: Children are definitely sexual beings. They're sexual 
beings from the time they're little, bitty babies, and of course 
we have to protect them. We have to look out for them. We 
don't want to put them at the mercy of adult sexuality. That 
would be a terribly overwhelming and unfair thing to do. And 
there have to be laws to protect children, but to deny that they 
have any sexual feelings at all is monstrous. To talk to fifteen-and 
sixteen-year-old girls as if they have no desire themselves is 
perfectly insane! To lead them to believe that the appropriate 

1 52 


role for them is that of a passive victim when they reach the 
age of seventeen and eighteen is nonsense. 

(Voice of a contemporary actor reading an excerpt from Lolita, while vintage 
Fifties film shows adolescent girls primping and preening amid sewing machines 
in home economics class and then modeling sports skirts in a fashion show.) 

HUMBERT: "Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur 
maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many 
times older than they, reveal their true nature. The little deadly 
demon among wholesome children, she stands unrecognized by 
them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power." 

paglia: I think the Lolita story forces us to face the fact that the 
girl in these adult-child relationships may not be the innocent 
that she seems, that there is a complicated game being played 
under the surface. Because I have heard repeatedly from mothers 
that there are certain daughters born to them who learn how 
to twist Daddy around their little finger from the moment they 
can walk, all right? I think there may in fact possibly be even a 
flirtation gene. I myself was born without it! 

(Cut to contemporary actors playing HUMBERT and LOLITA, who is non- 
chalantly chewing gum. Obsessed, he stares at her, while she slowly blows a 
big pink bubble until it bursts with a pop. Cut to clip from Vincente MinnellVs 
film Gigi (1958) . Dressed like a dandy with top hat and cane, MAURICE CHE- 
VALIER sits on a park bench in Paris, as Gigi (Leslie Caron) plays tag with 
other schoolgirls.) 

MAURICE CHEVALIER: This story is about a little girl. It could be 
any one of those little girls playing there. But it isn't. It's about 
one in particular — that one. Her name is Gigi . . . Gigi. (Laughs 
suggestively.) What you have to look forward to, Gigi! (Chuckles 
and sings.) Those little eyes so helpless and appealing/ One day 
will flash and send you crashing through the ceiling. /Thank 
heaven for little girls ..." 

PAGLIA: I don't think there is quite as sharp a borderline in France 
between childhood and adult sexuality as there is in England 
and America. It's therefore no surprise to me that the Lolita 
motif has continued as a French archetype all these decades 


1 53 

since the period of Brigitte Bardot. ( Clips from early Bardot films) 
I find very attractive in French culture the overt sexual grace 
and frank acknowledgment of sensuality in young French 

(As a woman looks on, the ebullient, teenaged Bardot is whirled round in the 
arms of a brawny man, who carries her away.) 

WOMAN: She's enchanting! 

MAN (domineeringly): She's — she's such a baby! 

( Cut to film of seven-year-old blonde Bardot lookalike VANESSA PARADIS 
singing on French television.) 

VANESSA PARADIS (lisping charmingly): Et mime la lune . . . vivre avec 
nous la vie . . . (forgets words, trails off, and giggles). 

HOST: Tu fais un peu de danse? Tu fais un peu de danse, non? [You'll do 
a little dance?] 

PARADIS: Oui. [Yes.] 

ANNOUNCER: De la dance classique? [Classical dance?] 

PARADIS: Rhythmique. [Modern dance.] 

ANNOUNCER: Fais moi voir commencer! [Go ahead, show me!] 

( Cut to moody, blue- toned music video of a fifteen-year-old Paradis, now with 
full-scale, petulant Bardot lips. She slowly washes her face with water from 
a basin, pats herself dry with a towel, and stretches out languidly on a bed.) 

SUZANNE MOORE: Well, the last time I was in Paris, I just noticed 
everywhere images of nymphets, if you like, of people like Va- 
nessa Paradis. I think French women often are kept in a very 
kind of infantile position within their families, and that's re- 
flected in a kind of sexual imagery that you see there. 

(Cut to NANCY HONEY, photographer, in London.) 

NANCY HONEY: It was interesting that when I recently had an ex- 
hibition of a lot of different pieces of my work in France, they 
certainly had no problem when it came to how the images would 
be read. And I just thought that was so different and refreshing, 

1 94 


after all this confusion for the last five years, where I felt that 
I had to constantly rationalize my work and my feelings about 
my children. (Montage of her photos of her nude children.) And there 
is a huge amount of sensuality in how I feel about them. But that 
isn't sexual, and I think that that's where the difference lies. And 
I do think that people have a lot of trouble with that hairline 
difference between sexuality and sensuality. (She picks up a black- 
and-white photo of Daisy and Jesse, aged seven and nine, touching hips. 
Seen from behind, their backs and buttocks resemble those of marble Greek 
kouros sculptures.) This image here, when this was exhibited, as 
part of a larger exhibition — I went to one of the exhibition 
organizers and said I thought that this would be a wonderful 
image for the poster. And she just completely freaked out and 
said that there was absolutely no way this could ever be used for 
a poster in any sense, and she mentioned the word "pedophilia." 
And I was really shocked. (She picks up a photograph of Daisy, at 
eight, peering through tumbled hair half obscuring her face.) And another 
exhibition organizer looked at this one, and she'd been leafing 
through the photographs and saying that she liked them, and 
she said, didn't I think that I'd "constructed" this in a "Lolita- 
ish" way? And again, I was completely dumbfounded! I really 
didn't know what to say because it had never even occurred to me. 
I've had lots of comments about, you know — well, obviously 
you posed her with her hair over her eyes to make her look at 
the camera in a soft porn pose — which, to be honest with you, 
I mean, I didn't. It was a look that she had a lot of the time, and 
you can see it in family snaps — if you care to look through my 
family album! So I didn't have a problem with this image. And 
although I think that this one (displays a photo of her son, in a 
dreamy pose, at ten) could be misconstrued in exactly the same 
way, no one's ever mentioned a word about this one being a 
sexual image because, perhaps, of him being a boy. 

ANNE RICE: I don't think there's any danger in using children in 
art. I think it'll always be confusing. There'll always be a heavy 
note of seductiveness in it, you know. And if you look at the old 
Pear's soap commercials with the beautiful little girl (cut to Pear's 
advertisement), that's a sexy little girl. Now there's nothing really 


1 55 

dirty or ugly about that. It's beautiful. But she's cuddly, and 
she's sensuous, and it's a gateway to something. But, I mean, 
you're not meant to open that gate and go that way, you know? 
That's the idea. But if we get too puritanical and we try to stamp 
out any use of children in art, I think that would be a terrible 
thing. Children exist. 

(Cut to photographs from Immediate Family, Sally Mann's pictures of her 
children. One little girl, playing Sorry, has an off-the-shoulder blouse; another 
holds a pretend cigarette; another, clutching a doll, wears heart-shaped sun- 
glasses. A half-nude boy gracefully poses with hand on bare hip; his wrist 
seems tied by black thongs. In the last picture, a girl who may or may not be 
nude stands in roller skates on a darkened porch, her hand falling near her 

PAGLIA: I feel the function of the modern artist is precisely to shatter 
all taboos and that where the subject of the art work causes the 
most pain, that is where the artist is contributing the most to 

( Cut to pastoral scene, Barley Splatt, Cornwall. Water spills into a stream, 
which mirrors the stone, fortress-like country home of GRAHAM OVENDEN, 

GRAHAM OVENDEN: One of the great problems at the moment is the 
actual automatic association of sexuality with sexual abuse in 
children. (OVENDEN is shown sitting in his studio among his paintings 
of nude prepubescent girls.) I mean, it's just patent and complete 
and utter nonsense. I think that the two have become so in- 
grained in the popular imagery, in the tabloid imagery, it's going 
to be very difficult for children in fact to have any normal un- 
derstanding of their sexual selves. 

This conversation in Germany or France, in fact, would be 
a non-starter, because the problems and the neuroses which we 
are talking about is a peculiar Anglo-Saxon problem, as far as 
one can tell, (gestures at two nude paintings) This is a pair of com- 
missioned portraits which I am working on at the moment, and 
they happen to be German girls. And they happen to come from 
one of the most famous German families! (laughs) I don't feel 
the slightest desire, in fact — apart from doing straight por- 

1 56 


traits — of doing nudes of children in Anglo-Saxon countries. I 
suppose in a way one could say I'm being chicken by saying 
that, but we've actually reached a point in this country where 
it becomes equivocal whether in fact one is actually doing some- 
thing legally. 

The present morality is a very cloaking one. Instead of the 
figure growing outwards in all its sort of state of grace, its clarity 
and its purity, it is cloaked. It's taken back into darkness, into 
the shadows. I mean, I don't bring nudity into it. Nudity is totally 
immaterial, because nudity is actually a state of purity — an ab- 
solute state. (The camera pans other of his paintings, where nude young 
girls boldly fix spookily intense eyes on the viewer.) This gaze, I mean, 
this is one of the most precious and wonderful qualities which 
you find in childhood. That stare, that clear-eyed stare in fact has 
the universe in it. And there is that sort of emotional quality in 
a child's look. I'd like on occasion to think of it as the child 
staring out at you and saying, you know, "Beware. Do not cor- 
rupt me." Perhaps because people are generally, shall we say, 
emotional cowards. It worries them, that stare. 

(Cut to ANDREW SAMUELS, Jungian analyst in London.) 

ANDREW SAMUELS: If you start to look at Lolita — the theme, the 
syndrome, as well as the book — from the point of view of males 
in crisis, then something new happens to our thinking. Let me 
explain what I mean. If you look at Lolita from the point of 
view of a clapped out, valueless, spiritually empty, middle-aged, 
middle-class professional — people like you, me, and a lot of the 
viewers of this program — then what you start to see is the way 
Lolita, the image, carries a certain kind of hope. Hope for a 
spiritual regeneration, hope for a connection with something 

(Cut to actors portraying HUMBERT and LOLITA. As he leafs through a 
magazine, she is chewing gum, toying with her hair, and scratching her shin. 
Voice-over of extract from Lolita. ) 

HUMBERT: "My innocent little visitor slowly sank to a half-sitting 
position on my knee. Her adorable profile, parted lips, warm 
hair were some three inches from my bared eyetooth; I felt the 


1 57 

heat of her limbs through her rough tomboy clothes. And all at 
once I knew I could kiss her throat or the wick of her mouth 
with perfect impunity. I knew she would let me do so, and even 
close her eyes as Hollywood teaches." 

(Cut to KIM MORRISSEY, author of Poems For Men Who Dream of 

KIM MORRISSEY: Lolita is a book where the fictional character of 
Dolores — Lolita — has no voice. And you never hear her side of 
the story. And so there's a great desire, I think, for women to 
have those voices that are traditionally left out of literature 
heard. When I wrote these poems, I wanted people to never be 
able to say the word "Lolita" again and use it in the cliched 
way that we have. (She reads from her book. Dreamlike footage of girl 
on a swing is superimposed on her face, accompanied by distorted play- 
ground shouts.) "Stepfather, somewhere between the dark stain 
on the tiles and the towels heaped on the back of the toilet, you 
rest your case. I may leave if I want. Today you are giving me 
choices. I watch my head turn in the mirror, thin hair finger- 
brushed back, tied low on my neck like a bow, taste your hair 
at the back of my throat, tightly wound wires riding the tip of 
my tongue. Today is a day we make choices. You or the foster 
home. You or the chair." 

PAGLIA (on set): I would maintain that the novel contains a cloaked 
incest drama. That in fact there is a masked father figure — 
Humbert — in this story that expresses the eternal conundrum 
of the incest taboo in our culture. We must recall that the two 
greatest plays in Western history, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and 
Shakespeare's Hamlet, contain incest themes. We seem to be 
returning to this problem again and again. 

( Cut to film clip from Lolita. Sue Lyon as LOLITA, chomping crackers, is 
perched in a window, with her feet flirtatiously up on a table at which James 
Mason as HUMBERT is dolefully sitting.) 

HUMBERT: I will never give away any of your secrets. 

LOLITA: You wouldn't? 

HUMBERT: I promise. 

1 58 


LOLITA: Oh! Well for that, you get a little reward. 

HUMBERT: Oh, thank you very much. 

LOLITA: Here. (She dangles a large slice of fish over his mouth.) 

HUMBERT (fatigued, exasperated): Oh, no, please. No — Lolita. No. 

LOLITA: Put your head back. Put your head back! Open your mouth. 
You can have one little bite! (He suddenly grips her wrist and takes a 
big bite.) 

CHARLOTTE (puzzled, then anxious at the foot of the stairs): Lolita! Lolita! 

PAGL1A: We're faced with a conundrum, a paradox here at the end 
of the century. We want to draw the father into the family unit 
closer and closer. Fathers now freely push strollers in a way that 
would have been embarrassing for them in the 1950s. But now, 
how close is too close? ( Cut to contemporary reenactment of LOLITA 
clumsily applying lipstick in a mirror. HUMBERT hovers intently in the 
background of her reflection.) Just what are the boundary lines of 
acceptable physical behavior between fathers and children? 

NANCY HONEY: Lots of dads have actually told me that they now 
feel that they can't even touch their eight-, nine-, ten-year-old 
girls without feeling that somehow there's something wrong with 
it. And it's, I think, more dangerous to stop physical closeness 
for a father and daughter, or for a father and son, than it is to 
be so worried about it. (Cut to intimate portrait of HONEY husband 
and son) 

ANDREW SAMUELS: There is something mutually enriching and en- 
hancing in the communications between father and daughter 
that stress, above all, the potential erotic liability of the daugh- 
ter. What we're badly lacking, and urgently need to develop, 
are texts that stress positive aspects of the erotically charged 
relationship between daughter and father. (Cut to reenactment of 
HUMBERT gently kissing LOLITA 's forehead) What / would want 
to do is to reconnect Lolita — and our worries about Lolita are 
justifiable and understandable worries about a veritable explosion 
of Lolita-ism in Western culture — I'd want to connect that back 
to ordinary benevolent erotics in the family. 


1 59 

( Cut to film of Nabokov in shorts, prowling mountain meadows with a butterfly 
net. He deftly traps a butterfly, inspects it, then releases it.) 

PAGLIA: Nabokov's novel was like a hand grenade thrown into the 
middle of the 1950s, blowing apart this kind of tranquil, settled, 
unexamined relationship between parents and children. In Lo- 
lita, Nabokov created a character who would come to symbolize 
the removal, in the final decades of this century, of the line that 
history had drawn between childhood and adult sexuality. We 
are now in the center of a sexual storm. It remains to be seen 
whether that line, artificial and repressive as it was, was not in 
fact in the best interests of culture. 

( Cut to legs of the girl in the opening scene. She is twisting her hair around 
her fingers. We hear Sarah Vaughan singing ( 'Let's fall in love right here and 
now. 33 The girl lifts the needle from the spinning 45, abruptly stopping the 
music. Cut to reenactment of HUMBERT watching LOLITA blow an enormous 
bubble. It pops into a black-out.) 



With the release of Andrew Morton's book, Diana: Her True 
Story, the decade-long Diana cult has become more than a senti- 
mental fairy tale. Morton's book, first published in June, created a 
publicity storm unprecedented even for naughty, tell-all celebrity 
biographies. The June 7 edition of the Sunday Times of London, which 
contained the first serialized excerpt, sold a record number of issues, 
up 21 percent from the regular 1,143,000 sale. In the United States, 
the issue of People that contained the first excerpt for American 
audiences sold 4,001,100 copies, a record in the magazine's eighteen- 
year history. Simon and Schuster had to double its 200,000-copy 
print run of Diana within days of publication. The book flew to the 
top of The New York Times best-seller list, which also contains, at 
fifth place, a recent book by Lady Colin Campbell, Diana in Private, 
and at fifteenth, Nicholas Davies's Diana: A Princess and Her Troubled 

The book was shrouded in secrecy during production, but tan- 
talizing tidbits began to leak out in the week before its serialization 
by the Sunday Times. The marriage of the Prince and Princess of 

[Cover story, The New Republic, August 3, 1992] 

1 63 

1 64 


Wales was over. Diana, weakened by bulimia, had tried to kill herself 
five times. Charles flaunted a mistress. There would be a divorce, 
a constitutional crisis, the collapse of the monarchy. The editor of 
the Sunday Times, denounced by members of Parliament and royalist 
hangers-on, stoutly defended the authenticity of the book, whose on- 
the-record sources arc of unprecedented closeness to Diana, includ- 
ing her brother, Viscount Althorp. Because the book also uses a 
large number of unpublished family photographs, there was spec- 
ulation that Diana herself had cooperated, however discreetly, with 
its production. 

But as the American response to the news shows, the fascination 
with Diana is more than a British phenomenon. It is an international 
obsession whose scale and longevity show that it is more than high- 
class soap opera or a reactionary wish-fulfillment fantasy for Amer- 
ican Anglophiles. Those who have never taken Diana seriously 
should take a new look. With this latest burst of press attention, 
Diana may have become the most powerful image in world popular 
culture today, a case study in the modern cult of celebrity and the 
way it stimulates atavistic religious emotions. It is increasingly ob- 
vious that Diana's story taps into certain deep and powerful strains 
in our culture, strains that suggest that the ancient archetypes of 
conventional womanhood are not obsolete but stronger and deeper 
than ever. 

Cinderella. When we first met her, Diana was a shy, blushing 
teenager who had landed the world's most eligible bachelor, a dash- 
ing Prince Charming with a throne in his future. Morton's book 
reveals that Diana is Cinderella in more ways than one. Despite her 
privileged background, she had a desultory finishing-school edu- 
cation and earned money doing odd jobs as a charlady — 'Vacuum- 
ing, dusting, ironing, and washing." Bizarrely, we actually see her 
"on her knees cleaning the kitchen floor" as she chats with a chum 
about her weekend plans. The Cinderella analogy continues in the I 
way Diana is pushed around and undermined by real and step 
relations: her bossy, fast-track sister Sarah, her ruthless, showy step- 
mother Raine, and the snippy female royals. She is stonewalled, 
outwitted, criticized, particularly by a stiff and censorious Queen , 
Mother, who had been publicly portrayed during the engagement 
as Diana's benevolent elder mentor. 


1 65 

The betrayed wife. Morton's book confirms rumors that have 
floated around for years about Charles's long-term mistress, Camilla 
Parker-Bowles, whom Charles dated before her marriage in 1973 to 
an army officer who is now Silver Stick in Waiting to the Queen, a 
peculiarly suggestive Tudor honorific. We now learn that Charles 
hardly spent a moment alone with Diana during the engagement. 
She seems to have been selected with clinical detachment as a brood 
mare to carry on the Windsor line. Like Mia Farrow in Rosemary's 
Baby, tricked and maneuvered into impregnation by Satan, she is 
isolated and conspired against by a faithless husband in league with 
a secretive, coldly smiling coterie. Most intolerably, her suitability 
as a mate was approved by Camilla herself, who deemed Diana the 
least threatening of rivals. Charles even proposed to Diana in the 
Parker-Bowles garden, as if under his mistress's aegis. 

We are certainly getting only one side of the story. It is unlikely 
that the mature, athletic, tally-ho Camilla, whom Diana cattily calls 
the "rottweiler," is as merciless and scheming as she is presented 
here. But the tales we are told — photographs of Camilla falling out 
of Charles's diary, Charles on the royal honeymoon sporting new 
cuff links from Camilla with two "Cs" intertwined, Diana over- 
hearing Charles in his bathtub professing eternal love to Camilla on 
his portable telephone, Camilla boldly presiding as hostess at the 
married Charles's country estate — inevitably make us sympathize 
with the young, fragile, and self-doubting Diana. Like Isabel Archer 
in Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, Diana is an ingenue subtly 
manipulated by a cynical matron, a sexual sophisticate of insidious 

The princess in the tower. Diana's story revives motifs of imperiled 
or mourning femininity that flourished in Victorian poetry and paint- 
ing but that one had thought long dead in this era of aggressively 
career-oriented feminism. Having discharged his princely duty to 
marry, Charles apparently cut himself off from Diana emotionally. 
She seems orphaned, abandoned. Her old friends, outside the moat, 
joke that "POW," Princess of Wales, really means "prisoner of war." 
Languishing in plush solitude, Diana resembles a whole series of 
melancholy pre-Raphaelite heroines painted by Holman Hunt and 
John Everett Millais: Tennyson's lovelorn Lady of Shalott caught 
in the threads of her loom, or his desolate Mariana, languidly stretch- 

1 66 


ing herself in her blue velvet gown; or Keats's half-mad young lover 
Isabella, watering the pot of basil with her tears. Like Andromeda 
chained to the rock — the theme of one of Burnc-Jones's greatest 
paintings — Diana is both imprisoned and exposed. She is trapped 
in royal formulas of decorum, with the world's eyes upon her. Her 
immediate predecessor is another Diana: Julie Christie in Darling as 
a spirited young woman who leaves swinging Sixties London to 
become an Italian principessa, only to be buried alive in grandiose 
luxury and the unctuous obsequiousness of a hovering army of ser- 

The mater dolorosa. Diana's children, William and Harry, give her 
image stature. Without them, and her widely noted physical tend- 
erness toward them, her marital complaints would seem far more 
juvenile or petulant. It is ironic that Charles, who plucked Diana 
from obscurity and who has all the weight of rank and wealth behind 
him, seems helpless in the court of popular opinion against the 
ancient archetype of the sorrowing mother or mater dolorosa, which 
Christianity borrowed from the cult of Isis. Charles had sought and 
found, in Morton's words, "a virginal Protestant aristocrat to be his 
bride" only to discover that his philandering attempts to remain 
himself produced a new Catholic Madonna, a modern Mary with a 
taste for rock and roll. 

"Diana in tears" was the caption on the June 29 cover of People 
magazine — the second cover story in a row — which reproduced a 
photo now seen everywhere of the Princess of Wales at her first 
official appearance several days after the Times serialization began. 
Head bowed and biting her lip, she seems visibly shaken, but no 
tears are visible. This did not stop an American supermarket tabloid 
from artificially adding a tear streak and enhancing the drops, so 
that Diana resembles a Spanish Baroque Madonna with precious 
crystal tears sparkling down her cheeks. Weeping Madonnas are 
considered miraculous manifestations in Catholicism; like Diana, 
they draw rapt and unruly crowds. Morton matter-of-factly reports 
several dramatic instances of Diana's prophetic power to foretell 
death or catastrophic illness. For example, she publicly predicted 
her father's massive stroke the day before it happened, and she 
said aloud, while watching Charles gallop on his horse, Allibar, 


1 6T 

that it was going to have a heart attack and die — which it imme- 
diately did. 

With the painful revelations of this book, Diana now assumes 
the international position once held by Jacqueline Kennedy after 
the assassination of her husband. Suffering redeems, and the world 
honors grace under pressure. Diana's dislike of the sporting life at 
Balmoral, the royal family's hallowed vacation retreat in Scotland, 
recalls the soft-spoken Jackie's hard knocks in the early years of her 
marriage: trying to fit in with the hyperkinetic, competitive, rough- 
housing Kennedys, she broke her ankle in a touch-football game 
and never went that route again. The supreme moment of Jackie's 
public life was her dignified deportment at John Kennedy's funeral, 
where, draped in a misty black veil, she stoically stood with her two 
small children, gazing at the flag-draped casket. In Morton's book, 
Diana is significantly shown alone with her children. Though she is 
smiling, the somber black-and-white of the photographs suggests her 
mourning for a dead marriage. 

The pagan goddess. Diana's conflict with her husband's mistress 
has Greco-Roman echoes unusual for the British royal family: Diana, 
a fierce Italian goddess of the woods, versus Camilla, Virgil's Am- 
azon, the militant Volscian horsewoman. A photo in Morton's book 
shows the young Diana Spencer dreamily reading a hunting mag- 
azine, The Field: The Stalking Review, with grazing stags on its cover. 
The caption informs us, "While she has a reputation for being unen- 
thusiastic about blood sports, Diana does enjoy stag hunting." 
Throughout art history, the ancient Diana, hot on the chase with 
her dogs, is almost invariably depicted with a stag or doe. Do names 
contain their own fate? 

The Hollywood queen. Morton tells us that Charles, exasperated 
by his wife's "histrionics," has often accused her of feigning "mar- 
tyrdom." Indeed, in reserved upper-class British terms, Diana's be- 
havior has an operatic Mediterranean theatricality. In her quarrels 
with Charles, the pregnant Diana threw herself down the San- 
dringham staircase, where she was found by the "Queen Mum," as 
the London dailies put it in June. On other occasions, she slashed 
her wrists with a razor blade, cut herself with a lemon slicer, stabbed 
herself in the chest and thighs with Charles's penknife, and hurled 

1 68 


herself against a glass cabinet at Kensington Palace. These may 
have been, as the Times headline said, "Cries for Help" rather than 
serious suicide attempts, but Diana's lurid private exhibitionism, so 
different from her public introversion, is reminiscent not only of the 
sensually gory lives of the saints but of Hollywood at its garish high 
point, the era of the "women's pictures" of Lana Turner, Susan 
Hayward, and Jane Wyman, which featured flawed, gallant, tor- 
mented women loyal to gorgeous but callow men. 

The old Hollywood studio system was like the Vatican in the 
way it manufactured stars and promoted its ornate ideology. The 
House of Windsor still functions like a studio in the way it sequesters 
its stars and subjects them to inhumane rules that make them more 
than human. Although she is still called "Di" in America, as if she 
were magically ever-virgin, Diana at her marriage ceased to be a 
private person and became Her Royal Highness, the Princess of 
Wales, one in a long succession of women holding that title. She 
merged with her function. Similarly, the movements of the royals 
are recorded daily in the Times under the rubric of their residences, 
as if the palace itself has a greater living authority. 

Diana's enormous glamour springs from the tension between 
energy and structure. Going about her public duties, she radiates a 
magnetic power that is directly produced by her disciplined con- 
tainment within class and rank. Her staggering worldwide popu- 
larity demonstrates the enduring power and significance of 
hierarchy, a power that fashionable academic paradigms — influ- 
enced by feminism, Marxism, Foucault, and the Frankfurt School — 
cannot understand and whose enduring mystique can only be ex- 
plained by Roman Catholicism or Hollywood history. 

Diana's sole contemporary parallel as an international pop diva 
is the second Madonna, who, like Diana, expresses herself best 
through dance, the universal language. Both Diana and Madonna 
have trouble with words, which fail them in public. Diana even 
stumbled over her wedding vows, when she reversed the order of 
Charles's names. It is remarkable how Diana has projected her 
personality without the use of words. Photographs and video footage 
arc her medium. She may be the last of the silent film stars. Morton's 
book reveals Diana's secret private life as a solitary ballet dancer: 
we see her gracefully poised en pointe on the rotting stone balustrades 


1 69 

at the "creepy" ancestral Althorp estate, which symbolize, as in Last 
Year at Marienbad, the ambivalent burden of history. Diana's classical 
dance training has given her an aplomb and distinction of carriage 
that make for great photographs even when she is simply getting in 
and out of cars — a talent conspicuously lacking in the lumbering, 
bottom-heavy Sarah Ferguson. Like the great stars of the Hollywood 
studio era, Diana exists for us as primarily a visul presence. 

The beautiful boy. The stunning childhood color photographs in 
Morton's book, lavishly reproduced with the care normally reserved 
for old-master paintings, reveal an element in Diana we may have 
been only subliminally aware of: her boyish androgyny. With her 
refined Greek profile and ethereal expression, she looks remarkably 
like the seraphic Antinous. Staring vacantly at the television in a 
half-dozen different pictures, she has the eerie, blank, contemplative 
"Attic look" of Athenian divinities. 

Charisma springs from a presexual narcissism that is both male 
and female. It is Diana's androgynous charisma that makes her so 
photogenic; the camera is picking up her perfect, glowing, self- 
enclosed childlikeness — not to be confused with childishness, a be- 
havioral flaw. Morton's book provides startling new information to 
explain this phenomenon: "I Was Supposed To Be a Boy," reads 
one chapter title. A badly deformed male baby was born to the 
Spencers, after two healthy girls, and soon died. Diana, the third 
girl, born a year and a half later, disappointed everyone's expec- 
tations. The fifth child was the long-awaited male heir, christened 
with great fanfare in Westminster Abbey, with the Queen as god- 
parent. Brought up with her brother in a divorced home, with her 
two older sisters soon off to boarding school, Diana seems to have 
merged with him in gender: standing in the photos next to his ath- 
letic, long-legged sister, he seems plump, girlish, and abashed. 

Very beautiful people have an autoerotic quality plainly visible 
in the Diana pictures, which border on kiddie porn. The young 
Diana, in boots and creased, crotch-tight overalls, leans back against 
a fence rail in an attitude of solicitation normally associated with 
boy prostitutes. We see a good deal of the ample developing bosom 
and a great array of peekaboo shots in towels and bathrobes, in- 
cluding one in a Paris hotel bed. Aquatics offer all the charms of 
semi-nudity, and so we repeatedly watch Diana diving or posing, 

1 70 


with the precise leg position of Botticelli's Venus, at poolside. There 
has been a persistent, half-conscious provocativeness in Diana's big 
public moments. In her first candid photo session at the London 
kindergarten where she worked, the newly engaged Diana was 
caught against sunlight in a see-through skirt that revealed her wil- 
lowy legs. For her first oflicial appearance with Charles, she chose 
a strapless, low-cut, lushly bust-revealing black ballgown that en- 
amored the world but — we now learn — surprised and annoyed 

One of the principal, much-debated issues relating to the cult 
of Greek youth was paideia, or education. Child-rearing emerges as 
a major theme in Morton's book. Diana was raised with the "for- 
mality and restraint" typical of British upper-class families. Her 
brother never had a meal with his father until he was seven. The 
kind of constant parent-child contact that is the norm, for better or 
worse, in poorer, smaller homes was missing from both Diana's and 
Charles's upbringing. Nannies, ranging "from the sweet to the sa- 
distic," as Morton puts it, are the parent substitutes. One nanny 
punished the Spencer girls by mixing laxatives in their food; another 
beat Diana on the head with a wooden spoon. The children retaliated 
by putting pins on the nannies' chairs or throwing their clothes out 
the window. Privileged British children are soon packed off to board- 
ing school, in an enforced separation from their homes that would 
be considered cruel and traumatic in contemporary America. Diana 
is determined to treat her sons differently: "I hug my children to 
death and get into bed with them at night." Is this enlightened or 

The book's striking dust-jacket photos illustrate Diana's duality. 
On the front, she kneels in a fountain of white chiffon. She is wearing 
what looks like a stripped-down wedding dress from which every 
adornment has been torn, after battle on the field of love. The bodice 
is daringly ofT-thc-shouldcr, in her usual unsettling subtext of sen- 
suality. On the back, in her androgynous mode, Diana wears a 
bohemian black turtlcneck and pants. With her tousled hair, she 
looks like the Beatles on their first album cover. This reminds us 
that, with the failure of the Wales' marriage, the popular imagination 
has suffered its bleakest awakening since the Beatles broke up. 

Diana's multiple personae, from princess and mother to Greek 



ephebe, are rich and far-ranging but also mutually contradictory, 
and they are clearly consuming her. No one, least of all a nervous, 
vulnerable young woman, could sustain the voyeuristic laser beam 
of the world's adulation. Deification has its costs. The modern mega- 
celebrity, bearing the burden of collective symbolism, projection, 
and fantasy, is a ritual victim, cannibalized by our pity and fear. 
Those at the apex of the social pyramid are untouchables, con- 
demned to horrifying solitude. There may have been many unhappy 
wives in royal history, but they did not have to live their emotions 
under the minute scrutiny of the telephoto lens. Mass media have 
made both myth and disaster out of Diana's story. We have created 
her in our own image. And, pursued by our best wishes, Diana the 
huntress is now the hind paralyzed in the world's gun sight. 


Television is America's kingmaker. The election of Bill Clinton 
to the presidency has finally demonstrated that television is not the 
crude, vulgar destroyer of political intelligence that so many com- 
mentators have claimed over the past twenty years. 

The television eye does not lie. Ads can be manipulated, but 
the live camera, following candidates around the clock through the 
long, bruising primary and campaign seasons, lets the public scru- 
tinize the field up close and personal. Jostled, harassed, and dog- 
tired, candidates eventually reveal their true nature, in all its quirks 
and strengths. 

Policy alone is no way to pick a modern president. In the nine- 
teenth century, before America was a world power, exhaustive three- 
hour debates of the Lincoln-Douglas kind may have been indis- 
pensable for proving fitness for office. But in today's intricate web 
of global telecommunications, unpredictable hair-trigger crises in 
remote, unstable places are a constant reality. 

George Bush was right: character is the ultimate criterion for 
measuring political candidates. The man or woman who would be 

[San Francisco Examiner, November 15, 1992] 


1 "73 

president must have energy, stamina, good instincts, and steady 
nerves. Like an admiral or general under fire, the president must 
make snap judgments about confused, mercurial situations where 
information is scanty and the lives of thousands hang in the balance. 

Clinton's positions on civil rights, the environment, and the 
economy were not enough to elect him if he failed the character 
test. Questions about his honesty and integrity hovered over him 
throughout the campaign. Zigging and zagging, he never gave 
fully satisfactory answers about his military draft history or alleged 
extramarital affairs. But popular support solidified enough to win 
him the White House. How and why? 

The 1992 election was one of television's finest hours. Press 
reports have overstressed the unique television candidacy of inde- 
pendent Ross Perot, who used his billions to buy airtime in the 
canned style of late-night kitchen-gadget commercials. Television 
gave Perot national exposure, but it also undid him. Charmed at 
first by his brusque business sense and tart Texas talk, many people 
became disturbed by Perot's erratic glibness and mythomania, of 
which his bloody, elaborate, but totally uncorroborated dog-bites- 
terrorist-buttocks tale was the most grotesque example. 

Television at first seemed to sink Clinton. His performance on 
60 Minutes — when he and Hillary evaded Steve Kroft's questions 
about Gennifer Flowers's claims of a long affair with Clinton — was 
weak. He was sheepish, ill-at-ease, abashed, like a schoolboy caught 
with his hand in the cookie jar. His wife was stronger, more resolute, 
mixing offense and defense with defiant bursts of vinegar and pepper. 
Hillary seemed fascinating and talented, but did one want to promote 
to commander-in-chief a man who came across as an overgrown 
mouse on his wife's leash? 

60 Minutes was the valley of political death out of which Clinton 
climbed by his own persistence and effort. Week by week, he slogged 
along through the primaries, facing down snickering, insults, and 
slander. He seemed tireless. The exhausted press corps called him 
"Robo-candidate." This was Clinton's punishing rite of passage. 

As the nation watched on television, bags sagged under his eyes, 
and his voice grew raspy. His goofy, overconciliatory manner dis- 
appeared. His temper flared. The moment in New York when he 
fiercely snapped back at a gay heckler was pivotal. Battleworn and 

1 74 


peevish, the boyish Clinton found the stern masculine persona with- 
out which no one — male or female — can lead a nation. 

Retaining his buoyancy and composure through adversity, Clin- 
ton grittily proved his character on television. It was also how he 
defeated a sitting president. By sheer brute physical vigor and en- 
durance, Clinton forced a changing of the guard, a supplanting of 
one generation by the next. The fall of the elders before a young 
challenger is always a cruel moment in mythology or in wolf packs. 

Throughout the campaign, Bush was vague, fumbling, fatigued. 
He who had finally emerged from Ronald Reagan's paternal shadow 
only four years ago now seemed antiquated, dispensable. Bush's 
waning was ironically intensified by the unexpected waxing of Dan 
Quayle, who in the twilight of the Republican dynasty suddenly 
gained a sharp combative voice and persona after his long purga- 
tory of scathing mockery by comedians and pundits. Quayle's self- 
propulsion out of eclipse was also made possible by television. 

The baby-boom generation has come to power in both parties 
with a surge of primal energy. Clinton has ignited the hopes and 
passions of the students of the Nineties in exactly the way John F. 
Kennedy did for us in the Sixties. I remember the breathless exhil- 
aration I felt as a thirteen-year-old campaigning for Kennedy in 
1960. The doldrums of the Eisenhower years were over. The whole 
future opened giddily before us. 

The exuberant energy of the Clintons and Gores connects us 
again to what was best about the Sixties generation, which later 
defeated itself in so many ways. On the podium at the Democratic 
convention, Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore held hands and jumped 
up and down in a victory dance of infectious glee. On stage at the 
governor's mansion in Little Rock on election night, Al Gore, kneel- 
ing and wildly shaking hands, had to be yanked back by the belt as 
he nearly toppled into the crowd. 

Spontaneity, humor, fun: the Sixties, older and wiser, have re- 
turned. It's hard to imagine Nancy Reagan breaking into a jig to 
Fleetwood Mac. Sixties women are not afraid to break the rules or 
offend decorum. The Clintons as a shrewd power couple have forged 
a broad national coalition by breaking the sterile deadlock of liberal 
versus conservative that has paralyzed political thought for twenty- 
five years. They have taken the best from left and right to make a 


1 75 

promising new synthesis that combines the moral quest for social 
justice with a respect for history and tradition, the virtues of the 

But what happens next? To govern, one must command the 
stubborn machinery of Washington, which outlasts all presidencies 
and parties. One must prioritize, husband resources, quell the turf 
wars of subordinates and special interests, and keep the ravenous 
media at bay. And around the world a hundred sectarian pots 
threaten to boil over. If the new administration can find the right 
combination of courage, toughness, and patience, the Sixties will 
have truly matured. 


Many of us voted for the Clintons as a power couple. They 
complement each other, and neither is totally adequate as a leader 
alone. That, I think, is what is so new. They are a symbol of the 
new kind of feminism: woman as co-equal to man, and sharer of 
responsibilities. When conservatives maligned Hillary before the 
election as "The Lady Macbeth of Little Rock," the feminist estab- 
lishment tried to claim that this was the sort of vulgar, derogatory 
talk always used by the patriarchy to cut down ambitious and com- 
petent women. I saw that the charge had some truth in it. I like 
Hillary because she's kind of a bitch. She has a quick, sharp tongue — 
which she managed to conceal for most of the campaign but which 
comes out periodically. 

But what won Clinton the presidency — his buoyancy and his 
common touch — are things that Hillary Clinton lacks. I've been a 
public fan of Hillary's right from the start, but there has been wild 
overpraise of her by the feminist establishment, which has seriously 
overestimated her capabilities. 

Normally in power couples, it's the man who is cold and realistic 

[An interview with Rebecca Mead, cover story, Sunday Times magazine, 
London, April 18, 1993. Original title.] 


1 77 

and the wife who has feeling for children and likes to press the flesh. 
It's the opposite with the Clintons, a sexual reversal: he's the one 
who gets teary-eyed and is a sentimentalist, who is a sucker for 
ceremonial occasions and for kissing babies. She has much more of 
a legalistic and highly organized way of thinking. She has the more 
traditionally masculine mind, he has the softer heart. 

There's something feminine about Clinton's sexual persona. 
He's the eternal boy, eternally optimistic, and that is extremely useful 
on the world stage. The boyishness of a leader is a gift, a charismatic 
quality. In Sexual Personae I concluded that true charisma is andro- 
gynous and that many important leaders have a subliminal andro- 
gyny appealing to and unifying the social classes. I think that Hillary 
Clinton acting as Lady Macbeth behind the scenes allows her hus- 
band to show his boyish side. 

But such youthfulness can be extremely dangerous. It's a dif- 
ficult problem when a leader's machismo is under challenge, as it 
is now with the controversy over gays in the military. Unlike most 
presidents, Clinton never served in the armed forces and was under 
a shadow during the campaign because of his alleged draft-dodging 
during the Vietnam war. Clinton needed to establish his authority 
immediately after his inauguration, and this is where Hillary com- 
plicated matters. We want a co-equal wife, and a woman who has 
her own career. But we cannot have a situation where the president 
is a wimp and his wife is a virago, an Amazon or Omphale figure. 

Looking at it mythologically, I see a real danger of Hillary 
turning into the Omphale archetype, the woman who enslaved Her- 
cules, the most virile man of antiquity. Omphale put Hercules into 
women's clothes and made him spin and do woman's work in her 
household. Hillary is an enormously powerful woman. We don't 
want the perception, or misperception, that she's controlling politics 
from the boudoir, from behind the throne. Otherwise he turns into 
a puppet dangling from the strings of a dominatrix. 

To me there's a big question mark about what is going on 
sexually in that marriage. I have the feeling that the Clintons' pub- 
licly admitted marital problems came from Hillary's relapses into 
her hyper law-student mode, intense and bookish, which shuts off 
sexuality like a faucet. I wonder whether she has a problem — more 
common among women than is realized — of integrating sexuality 

1 "78 


with high intelligence and careerism. Pictures of Hillary in law school 
and her early career show that she was completely dowdy. This is 
also something I went through. In the 1970s I vowed I would never 
wear a dress again because it was a badge of servitude. I was de- 
termined to sabotage my own sexual persona, and that's what I 
think Hillary did too. 

Hillary can be sexy, but it was amazing how, on inauguration 
day, there was an uncomfortable return to her dowdy persona. She 
had this dreadfully frumpy scarf pulled up to her chin and a stiff 
hat jammed down to her eyes, and she just looked stumpy and 
dumpy. It was a reversion under high stress to dowdiness, and I 
think we were seeing her truest, deepest nature. 

The problems of the Clinton household are mirroring those of 
an entire generation. It seems to me that the Clintons represent the 
best of the Sixties generation, and the worst too. We had so many 
hopes and ideals, but we hit the wall of reality. Decade by decade, 
we of the Sixties have been forced to acknowledge that life is more 
complex and baffling than we thought. I am very uneasy when 
feminists and journalists overpraise Hillary and hail her as the su- 
preme feminist woman, the supremely gifted one who will soon be 
running for president herself. 

The toll taken on the Clintons' daughter Chelsea by their power- 
couple marriage seems to be obvious. The girl looks like an orphan. 
She looks abandoned, as if she's a castaway on a desert island, a 
hostage in the family. During the entire campaign she was kept from 
sight. There was all this pious talk from people that the Clintons 
were nobly shielding their child from the pressure of public scrutiny. 
The first time we got a look at Chelsea, just before the Democratic 
convention, it was a terrible shock. One felt she was a walking, 
talking demonstration of the internal problems of her parents' mar- 
riage. At the convention, Hillary was all turned out and stylish, but 
Chelsea seemed to be deliberately trying to upstage her mother by 
looking like a spinster in mourning. Her rebellion against her parents 
was painful to see; it sabotaged the public displays and protestations 
of family happiness. I think there's a combat going on between 
mother and daughter, even a kind of terrorism. 

I'm not saying that Hillary should have stayed home with Chel- 
sea. Feminism must move forward, and women must get what they 


1 79 

can from both the career realm and from motherhood. But we must 
get over this naive optimism that everything will be just dandy, that 
you can succeed gloriously as both a mother and a professional 
without taking from either. Many of Hillary's problems came from 
this terrible dilemma facing modern women. The feminist estab- 
lishment in America constantly insists that you can have it all. But 
I agree with Katharine Hepburn that you can't; something or some- 
one will suffer. 

Hillary's strength during the campaign was her shrewd ability 
to mask herself in a bland, centered, middlebrow American persona 
that was a kind of throwback to the 1950s. She consistently looked 
quite good. She was able to communicate to American women that 
she is someone who sympathizes and empathizes with the role of 
wife and mother and yet holds her own beliefs and is in no way 
under the male thumb. She seemed to be both an independent 
thinker and a conventional woman grounded in the family. 

There was a pivotal moment in the campaign when Hillary said, 
in response to a nasty question about being a working mother: "Well, 
listen, I could have stayed home and baked cookies." Many people 
in America, especially women, did not like that at all. There was 
an outcry, and the campaign could have been lost at that moment. 
My admiration for Hillary Clinton is that she knew immediately 
that she had made a misstep and she deftly adjusted. You never 
heard that voice of hers again. People said: "Isn't that wrong, for 
her to retreat in the face of social convention?" I said no, no, no, 
on the contrary: this was a sign of Hillary's insight and political 
astuteness. She knew the progressive issues that she and her husband 
stood for — racial harmony, women's rights, toleration of gays — 
would benefit more from her husband's election than from her being 
able to be fully herself and do her own thing. She sacrificed her own 
self-expression for a great good. The reality principle triumphed. 

At the peak of her campaign mode, Hillary was tapping into 
the power of the Southern woman, which she had learned after many 
years as the governor's wife in Arkansas. Southern women can be 
both earthy and glamourous. They are superb hostesses: they know 
how to flirt wittily with men. Down South the women are very potent. 
There's a way they can command men that Hillary learned when 
she arrived there from the North. 

1 80 


Over time, she became a Southern blonde, which I have learned 
to admire as a great sexual persona. Hers was a sober version of the 
Southern belle; there's no doubt that Hillary got a lilting cadence 
to her voice and a confident smile on her face from her experiences 
in Arkansas. Now, of course, she's in Washington, where people 
don't act like that, and she seems unfortunately to have lost the 
persona, since the models for it aren't around every day. 

Part of the problem is that she's doing the circuit as head of the 
president's task force on health care, asking questions, amassing 
information, and so forth, and it's increasingly difficult for her to 
retain that light, warm, feminine manner that she sustained so suc- 
cessfully during the campaign. Now that she's deeply immersed in 
hard practical issues, the TV cameras catch that cool, disciplined 
personality that was hiding under the gracious Southern persona. 
Now we see the eager, earnest, conscientious law student coming 
out again. She's been forced into the public eye in her most limited, 
most cerebral persona. Meanwhile Clinton is floundering with the 
gays-in-the-military issue, which he mishandled from the start. Right 
now, as sexual personae, the Clintons are a disaster. 

Hillary must very quickly recover that successful warm, calm 
persona she had throughout the campaign. The country cannot feel 
confident about leaders who look as if they're anxiously cramming 
for an exam. 

I think there is a problem that the feminist establishment refuses 
to face: career women in the Anglo-Saxon world have desexed them- 
selves. Latin countries still acknowledge and celebrate the sexual 
power of woman. There is a mystique about it which we do not 
have. Unfortunately, when women achieve high positions in Britain 
and America, it seems to be at the price of their sexuality. There is 
a bleached, sanitized, desexed, desensualized quality to Hillary's 
persona, even at her sexiest. In other words, Hillary Clinton shows 
all of the possibilities of the modern career woman, but also all of 
the dangers: at the executive level of the industrialized world, we 
may be cutting ourselves off at the neck. Our battle is not just with 
the male establishment but with ourselves: how do we keep mind 
and body together? 


From Crossfire, CAW, March 8, 1994. Hosts: Michael Kinsley and Pat 
Buchanan. Guests: Democratic Party strategist Ann Lewis in Washington and 
Camille Paglia in New York. On Hillary Clinton and the Whitewater scandal. 

KINSLEY: We're going to get into that shredding in a little bit, but 
let me ask Camille Paglia. I don't know about you, but I en- 
counter extraordinary antagonism towards Hillary Clinton, far 
beyond anything that could be explained by Whitewater or 
health care or anything like that, and I do think, it seems to 
me, that a lot of it at least is old-fashioned resentment of a 
successful, powerful woman. Now, isn't that fair? 

PAGLIA: I don't agree with this, because I'm a Clinton Democrat. 
I loved Hillary during the campaign. I wrote articles about her. 
One appeared in England, a cover story, and so on, but I have 
been bitterly disappointed in her performance ever since they 
took office. I'm judging her not as a woman but as a person in 
the public life. I feel that she has no idea how to maintain herself 
in that high position. She just hides from accountability. I find 
her arrogant. I find her cold. I think that there was too much 
unctuous genuflection in front of her, that the liberal media had 
only one image of her for the last year, and they're starting to 

1 82 


wake up to reality, seeing her in action here. I think she has 
fumbled and bumbled and shown a kind of lack of character. 
The first moment when I began to have a chill about her was 
inauguration gala night, when Clinton sat there enjoying him- 
self, very effusive, very open, and she sat there with this like 
pursed expression on her face, very tight. I felt that they were 
a power couple, a great power couple. They made many, many 
serious mistakes. One of the first things they did wrong was to 
separate the two of them within days. I mean, the way she was 
suddenly unleashed within days of taking office. Their people 
should have allowed the country to get to know her for a few 
months. To put her in charge of health care — one of the most 
important issues facing the nation, a very complex matter — so 
early on, she began to look like a kind of worried student. She 
was always frowning — 

KINSLEY: Now, Camille, if a man, say Pat Buchanan, to pick a man 
at random, had said that he was against Hillary Clinton because 
he didn't like the way she pursed her lips at the inauguration 
ball, he'd be savaged for sexism. 

PAGLIA: As a woman and as a feminist, I can state that I am not 
critiquing her as a woman. I'm critiquing her as a person in the 
public eye. . . . What I'm saying is that week after week, month 
after month, her old reputation, coming from the far right, of 
being the Lady Macbeth of Little Rock, has proved to be true ! . . . 
There is something manipulative, cold, and self-withholding 
about her that it has taken the liberal media a year to realize, 
and they — 

lewis: Wait a minute — 

BUCHANAN: All right. Let's get Ann Lewis back into this. 

LEWIS: If we're going to talk about Hillary Clinton as a person, 
can't we just stop and look at the year she's had? I'm stunned 
to hear this kind of language being thrown around. Here is a 
woman who one year ago relocated her family, including a teen- 
age daughter, and those of us with teenage children know that 
isn't ever easy to do, changed her job, left friends and her sort 
of support network behind — 


PAGLIA: Oh, give me a break! 
LEWIS: — moved to a strange city — 
PAGLIA: Oh, what a sob story. 
KINSLEY: Hold on, Camille. 
PAGLIA: Oh, the violins, the violins! 
LEWIS: I am going to finish my talking — 
PAGLIA: What a sob story. 

LEWIS: — moves to a strange city, her father dies — 
PAGLIA: Oh, her father dies. 
LEWIS: — her friends are under attack — 
PAGLIA: Oh, please. 

LEWIS: This has been personally very difficult — 
BUCHANAN: Ann Lewis — 

LEWIS: — and to see her now criticized for what somebody remembers 
as an expression on her face — 

BUCHANAN: Ann, excuse me — 

LEWIS: — seems to me so grossly unfair, it's appalling. 
PAGLIA: That is absurd — ridiculous* 
BUCHANAN: Camille, can I get into this? 

PAGLIA: They want special standards for womenl That's what you're 

LEWIS: Camille, I'm asking for common standards of decency and 
human dignity. 

paglia: Decency? 

LEWIS: I would extend it to anyone here on this stage — 
PAGLIA: She's in the public eye. 

1 84 


LEWIS: — and that includes people who are in the public eye, because 
when you go into the public eye, you do not lose your humanity 
or your warmth — 

BUCHANAN: Camille, I'm going to get in here. 

PAGLIA: Oh, I've never heard such sentimentality — ! Saccharine, 
saccharine sentimentality. 

BUCHANAN: Excuse me, Camille. Ann Lewis, aren't you asking for 
something of a double standard here? 

paglia: Yes. 

BUCHANAN: First you want her to be the super cabinet officer. She's 
got control of health care and all the rest of it. Along comes 
Whitewater-gate, she can't have a press conference. It's like, 
look, we want to go out and play with the boys, play touch 
football, they get knocked down, and you're crying and talking 
about how tough it was to relocate her family. 

PAGLIA: Right. . . . 

KINSLEY: Camille, isn't it a little tough on someone like Hillary 
Clinton to be accused essentially of being a false feminist because 
she really got her job through her spouse? What else can the 
spouse of the president do, even if it's a man? Can't really have 
a career of his own, can he? 

PAGLIA: Even the way she handled the health-care thing I did not 
approve of. I felt that her performance on the Hill — she was 
always one step away, I felt, from saying, ' 'You know, I'm smarter 
than you." There's something about her — 

KINSLEY: You know, people say the same thing about you, Camille. 

PAGLIA: I am not in public office! I am outside the political estab- 
lishment — 

KINSLEY: So I don't understand what your objection is. Your ob- 
jection is that people of the public establishment shouldn't imply 
that they're smarter than other people but that you can? 

PAGLIA: No, no, no. I feel there's a kind of secretiveness about her, 
even the way they handled the health-care thing. I have not been 


1 85 

impressed with her performance over the last year, and it's taken 
people a long time to catch up with it. 

KINSLEY: What are you talking about, secretiveness on health care? 
They produced a thirteen-hundred-page report. They're in trou- 
ble because it's so detailed. 

PAGLIA: No, it was never clear how many people were involved in 
the whole procedure, who they were — 

KINSLEY: Oh, Camille, who on earth cares about that? The fact is, 
Hillary put together, with the help of her task force, a thirteen- 
hundred-page plan which is now getting in trouble precisely 
because it's so detailed, whereas the rival plans are not. 

PAGLIA: I'm sorry, no, no. They dug a hole for themselves, because 
when they started out, I was behind the Clintons — the idea of 
universal coverage and so on. As the year has gone on, I have 
systematically lost confidence in her and in him. I no longer believe 
anything they say. I believe nothing that comes out of that White 
House. They have a terrible staff. George Stephanopoulos is a 
complete incompetent. I don't know why he wasn't kicked out 
of there ages ago. . . . 

KINSLEY: Camille Paglia, you told something to our staff that I just 
want to check out whether you really meant it. You criticized 
Hillary Clinton for taking sixteen days off from the health care 
task force to be by the bedside of her dying father, who did 
subsequently die. Gosh, at the end of a long life, sixteen days 
with your father is — What was wrong with it? 

PAGLIA: She had just been put in charge of this enormously complex 
thing of health care, okay? Either we have to judge her as a 
person or judge her as a public official. If you're going to give 
yourself over to the public trust, there are certain private things 
you must sacrifice. I feel that in this age of jet planes it was 
absolutely ridiculous. I mean, to me that was not impressive. I 
do not feel this was a great demonstration of her filial feeling. 
On the contrary, I think she was getting out of Washington is 
what she was doing, and it was the same motif she's doing now: 


hide, don't deal with the reality, don't learn! She's out of her 

KINSLEY: What was she trying to duck? Her popularity was terrific 
back then. She had no reason to want to get out of Washington. 
I mean, you're really attributing cynical motives to going to be 
by her dying father? 

paglia: Yes, I am. 

KINSLEY: You wouldn't want a man or a woman to do the same 

PAGLIA: No, neither a man — which means the same standard. 
KINSLEY: I agree with you. 

PAGLIA: If you saw a man sitting by the bedside of his father for 
sixteen days, you would think there were possibly other motives 

KINSLEY: Maybe you would think that. . . . 

LEWIS: And by the way, nobody has said that the brilliance of the 
White House in handling this — let's be clear, that's right. This 
is Whitewater, an issue around which there is no serious alle- 
gation of wrongdoing. Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1978 — 

BUCHANAN: No serious — 

paglia: Oh, God! 

LEWIS: No serious allegation. When you take out a loan from a 
commercial bank, not a savings and loan, they pay commercial 
rates — 

BUCHANAN: You don't think that rate — 

LEWIS: They paid it all back, and all of a sudden, we're talking 
about it as if it were a big scandal. 

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you what — 

KINSLEY: Let me ask you — 


1 87 

PAGLIA: There was a suicidel There was a suicide in the White House, 
for heaven's sakes. I mean, what are they talking about? God! 

KINSLEY: Gamille, there was no suicide in the White House. The 
suicide had nothing to do with Whitewater — 

PAGLIA: Oh, I don't believe that — oh, pleasel 

KINSLEY: You don't believe that either? 

PAGLIA: I don't believe that for one minutel ... I came back from 
England in early January, and outside of America people see 
Hillary Clinton much more clearly than they do here, okay? That 
is, there's this kind of a sanctimony about her in the press for the 
last year. I really think that there is something sexist about all 
of the horror of us — of anyone — criticizing Hillary. People are 
acting as if we're contaminating the Madonna by daring to — 

KINSLEY: Who's horrified? She's been taking a beating for the past 
week. I don't see anyone saying it's inappropriate. They say it's 
inaccurate, but they're not saying it's inappropriate. 

PAGLIA: There's been a year, okay, of this lily-white reputation of 
her, wild overpraise, even of her performance on the Hill. People 
have been afraid to be called sexist and so on. So inside the 
Beltway, everybody's very accustomed to thinking of her as a 
kind of — you know, as Saint Hillary. . . . This is a woman who's 
out of her depth, a person who's out of her depth in the present 
position that she has. 


From Larry King Live, CAW Television, May 16, 1994. Host: Larry King. 
Guests with King in the studio in Washington, D.C.: Eleanor Smeal, president 
of the Feminist Majority Foundation and former president of NOW; Katie 
Mahoney, head of Christian Defense Coalition's Paula Jones Legal Defense 
Fund. In Philadelphia: Camille Paglia, identified on-screen as "feminist com- 
mentator. 33 

[King questions Smeal about the reluctance of feminist groups to support former 
state of Arkansas clerical worker Paula Jones in her charge of sexual harassment 
against then- Governor and now-President Bill Clinton.] 

LARRY KING: Camille, would you talk to Paula Jones? 

PAGLIA: I sure would! I find her story pretty credible — in fact, much 
more credible than Anita Hill's. I am delighted. I must say, 
first of all, I'm a Clinton Democrat. I support ninety percent 
of Bill Clinton's policies. I hope to vote for him again. But I am 
the only leading feminist who went against Anita Hill, and boy, 
I am so glad that you see NOW squirming on the hot seat, okay? 
They are such hypocrites. Finally, they are being exposed to the 
nation for the partisans that they really are! 

1 88 


1 89 

SMEAL: We're not squirming at all. We're just not going to be 
baited — 

PAGLIA (with relish): Oh, you're squirmingi . . . 
KING: Why do you seem to enjoy this? 

PAGLIA: I am so happy that finally the Stalinist, p.c. feminist es- 
tablishment is exposed for what it is. Instead of blaming David 
Brock [author of The Real Anita Hill] and the American Spectator 
[a conservative magazine], it's the media that was totally biased, 
that should have pursued these issues. They were so eager to 
get rid of Bush, they never pursued these issues in Little Rock. 
So now the chickens have come home to roost. This case is not 
just about Anita Hill. What about the [Mike] Tyson case? — 
where Tyson was railroaded — a similar case, where someone in- 
vited a woman up to his hotel room — 

KING: Camille, you are a feminist? 

PAGLIA: I am a committed feminist. I am a dissident feminist (angrily 
stabs her finger at the camera). And NOW does not speak for Amer- 
ican women! NOW does not speak for all women or all fem- 
inists! . . . 

KING: Camille, you are a Clinton supporter — a vibrant Clinton 

PAGLIA: I am. In Europe, you see, the private lives of politicians 
are of no concern to their public behavior. I believe in moderate 
sexual harassment guidelines. If he was indeed her boss ulti- 
mately, as the governor of Arkansas, I think there might be a 
sexual harassment issue there. But just a man hitting on a 
woman and trying to have sex with women? I think we're a very 
puritanical country. I'm for a high libido president! I applaud 
him, if he goes out and picks up women. . . . 

SMEAL [about the Jones case]: I think it's a put-up job by the right 
wing. . . . 

PAGLIA: Oh, come on\ The Anita Hill case was a put-up job by the 
feminist establishment. Why has the media and why have lib- 

1 90 


erals ceded over to the right the power of critique? Don't blame 
the people who are pushing Paula Jones forward. She needs all 
the support she can get. Her charges arc far more serious than 
those of Anita Hill. . . . [King asks about the allegations of 
sexual harassment against Senator Bob Packwood.] I like the 
way the feminist establishment used Packwood until the election 
of Clinton, then they threw him to the wolvesl What is this, the 
Soviet Union? If Packwood is accused, bring the women forward. 
Bring the accusers forward! Let's examine them in public. 

SMEAL: They want to come forward. They've been demanding a 
hearing — 

PAGLIA {scornfully): Nonsense! Oh, you people manipulate the 
news — 

SMEAL: You're always attacking us — you're making a cottage in- 
dustry out of it. That's all you're doing! 

PAGLIA: Oh, you people are such Stalinists! You people are 
dishonest — you are manipulative. We are sick of you, NOW — 
sick of you, former leaders of NOW! We're tired of you! ... I 
think most people in the country don't really care about Bill 
Clinton's private life. What we do care about is honesty. So I 
think that the White House should be much more up front and 
stop this stonewalling. Because you can't believe a single word 
that comes out of this White House. I'm behind Clinton's pol- 
icies. I just think that he has very bad judgment about staff. A 
lot of this is just staff ineptitude. If he would just 'fess up and 
get on with it. He's not accused of anything that happened since 
he swore the oath of office, and that would be the grounds of 
impeachment. . . . Paula Jones should be given her day in court. 
I don't think we should believe any allegations until the evidence 
is put forward. Certainly that was not the case with Anita Hill! 
I'm just hoping it does not derail the Clinton presidency. I think 
the sexual peccadilloes of great men, of great politicians should 
be overlooked. I know I'm kind of on the radical extreme with 
that one. 


The death of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis on May 19 
was headline news in America and inspired testimonials of love and 
respect across all divisions of social class and political party. Jackie 
was the most famous woman in the world in a long period following 
that of the great stars of old Hollywood and preceding that of our 
own pop princesses, Diana and Madonna, both currently in semi- 

Merely as a paragon of high fashion and elegant good taste, 
Jackie could not have won the position she retained over several 
decades in millions of people's affection. It was her baptism by 
gunfire that deified her. Her extraordinary behavior during and after 
the assassination of her husband has given her a permanent place 
in history. In the blood-spattered limousine in Dallas, an archetypal 
pieta was forced on Jackie. Cradling the shattered head of the head 
of state in her lap, she became Michelangelo's grieving Madonna, 
caught between horror and admiration at the wounded body of her 
beautiful son. The Catholic Andy Warhol paid tribute to this aspect 

[The New Republic, June 13, 1994] 

1 92 


of her in his Duccio-like checkerboard altarpiece of Jackie as national 
mater dolorosa. 

Jackie's heroism was made possible, I submit, by a neglected 
element of her famous biography. Everyone knows about her ath- 
leticism and cult of fitness, her love of horses from childhood. What 
we are admiring in her deportment in crisis is dressage, the art of 
English horsemanship, an aristocratic style that descends from the 
prc-revolutionary ancien regime of the eighteenth century. When peo- 
ple say Jackie is "the closest thing to royalty" American democracy 
has ever seen, this is what they really mean. 

Dressage is a form of radical minimalism, of hierarchical stillness 
and repose. The rider's signals to the horse are completely invisible. 
Jackie, masquerading as the perfect adornment, was a master of 
manipulation and control, not of the psychological realm, where she 
was at the mercy of adulterous men, but of the physical realm, which 
she brought to the highest level of refinement. From her renovation 
of the White House to John F. Kennedy's magnificent state funeral, 
she simplified, condensed, and reshaped, out of her powerful instinct 
for visual symbolism. 

In ancient Greek culture, the image of horse and rider repre- 
sented the victory of reason in the eternal battle of civilization with 
anarchy. Horsemanship had a spiritual meaning as the discipline of 
our animal impulses. As her parents' marriage disintegrated, the 
very young Jacqueline Bouvier found in the public ritualism of riding 
a life structure that served her well to the end. She became a cus- 
todian of the forms — posting herself at Lyndon Johnson's side as he 
swore the hurried oath of office on Air Force One, doggedly cele- 
brating her son's third birthday party on the day of his father's 
burial. The educative paradigm in equitation — the patient process 
of "schooling" colts — was fulfilled in the success with which she 
reared two unpretentious children who have escaped the whirlwind 
of self-destructiveness that so often envelops the scions of celebrity. 

Reflecting today on Jackie's stoical management of self and 
surroundings in the aftermath of the assassination, we may rue the 
disrespect with which my Romantic Sixties generation treated the 
artifice of etiquette. It was tradition and ceremony — a severe for- 
malism of lamentation as in Aeschylus's Libation Bearers — that reor- 
dered the nation's blasted and scattered emotions after the shocking 


1 93 

slaughter of its leader. As we fled the suffocating conformism of the 
Fifties, our indifference to the positive aspects of convention even- 
tually stranded us in the mawkish Great Wallow of victim culture. 
"Let it all hang out," we said, for which we are now paying the 
price. Jackie's classy grace under pressure, her cool rejection of 
complaint or self-pity demonstrate the redemption possible in repres- 
sion, sublimation, and silence. 

As patron, connoisseur, and conservator of the arts, Jackie set 
herself apart from the ordinary run of socialite women of the horsey 
set, with their earnest, peppy, man-the-battle-stations bravado — 
good examples are Princess Anne or Prince Charles's mistress, Cam- 
illa Parker-Bowles — ironically, the style of the rambunctious Hyan- 
nisport Kennedys, whose mania for touch football broke the ankle 
of Jack's new bride. Balancing the contemplative with the active, 
Jackie rediscovered the Greek ideal in horsemanship. 

And the sport gave her superb reflexes. One of the absurd claims 
in C. David Heymann's A Woman Called Jackie (1989) is that when 
she scrambled up on the back of the limousine in Dallas, Jackie was 
fleeing in terror for her life. Apollo preserve us from bookworm 
biographers! Were Jackie seeking safety, the bred-in-her-bones, 
crouching "forward seat" in jumping horses would automatically 
have put her on the floor of the car. In lunging for a flying fragment 
of her husband's skull, Jackie placed herself directly in the line of 
fire, an act of great physical courage for which she has never been 

As a diva who enamored the world paparazzi, Jackie had in- 
teresting ambiguities. In Sexual Personae, commenting on her resem- 
blance to perverse and perhaps hermaphroditic images in Aubrey 
Beardsley, I cited a diary entry where Cecil Beaton records Jackie's 
"suspicion of a mustache" and her "big boyish hands and feet" 
(apparently size 10AA). Unlike her romantic rival Marilyn Monroe, 
Jackie did not base her female power on an ample bosom. On the 
contrary, her mannequin's silhouette was linear, in the classical 
ballet style of Audrey Hepburn. A rigorous dieter, Jackie may have 
been one step from anorexic, but we never noticed it, because of her 
wide, serene moon face with its dreamy gaze and Mona Lisa smile. 

In modern iconography, Jackie belongs to the Gene Tierney 
category of brooding brunettes, mysterious and withdrawn. The 


voice is undeveloped and whispery, the eyes wide and frightened. 
Such women often have a steely resolve or willfulness, all the more 
daunting because of their evasion of open confrontation. The pas- 
sionately intelligent Jacqueline Bisset, playing Jackie in The Greek 
Tycoon (1978), never quite caught her unsettling ethereal quality, I 
her misty clairvoyant aura. Jackie's influence as a trendsetter of 
modern female personae can be seen in Anouk Aimee, Mary Tyler 
Moore, Mario Thomas, Barbara Parkins, and Stefanie Powers. It 
is a vibrant, mature heterosexual style, physically active and men- 
tally alert, but without feminist stridency or anger. It is a still- 
attractive model of attentiveness to men without subservience to 

Jackie's sophisticated stage presence and youthful joie de vivre 
were exhilarating, after the Mamie Eisenhower decade of bourgeois 
domesticity and chintz. Jackie was a transition toward a more as- 
sertive and politically involved First Lady, the constitutional desir- 
ability of whom we are still trying to assess. The dignity and restraint 
of Jackie's later years made us forget or forgive her shopaholic jet- 
set period, when she spun out of American orbit and married a 
Mediterranean Minotaur. 

What is indelible now is Jackie's fortitude and valor as a survivor 
of the blood sport of male politics. Some strange law of retribution 
cut down the wheeler-dealers in Dallas and spared the women at 
their sides, as in a Greek tragedy like Euripides's The Trojan Women. 
The stained suit Jackie refused to change that day documented the 
polarities of womanhood: the pastel pink of girlhood and romance 
and the barbaric blood red of birth and death. That garment, like 
the Shroud of Turin, was a pictogram of her life story, with its failed 
pregnancies and widowhood. This was a woman who thought in 
universals: a rose garden, an eternal flame, a riderless horse, named 
for her father, whose skittishness in the funeral parade expressed 
uncontrolled male libido, the one beast Jackie never tamed. 


1. The Saint. Brought from Italy by Felice and Vincenza Colapietro 
Photo: Dean Gazzo. 


For fifty years, a large framed print of an Italian saint hung 
over a bed in the house of my maternal grandmother, Vincenza 
Colapietro, in Endicott, New York. The identity of the saint was a 
mystery. A young man in his teens stands with hands piously clasped 
and gazes down at an image of the Madonna, her heart pierced by 
the daggers of the seven sorrows. He is wearing the cassock and 
heavy, sinister black cloak of the Passionist monks. A misty silver 
halo glows around his head. On the table next to Mary's picture is 
a crucifix and, in grisly brown-gold, a gleaming human skull, resting 
near a bouquet of lilies, symbolizing the Holy Mother's purity. 

The saint's picture terrorized several generations of children, 
beginning with my uncle Bruno, who had to sleep beneath it. When 
his childhood bedroom eventually became the guest room, all my 
overnight visits to my grandmother's ended with me being laid down 
to sleep under the saint. As I usually stayed awake for hours, listening 
to the raucous hilarity of Italian voices and savoring the heady smell 
of strong coffee, whiskey, and anisette, I had a lot of time to stare 
at the image above me. 

At first, the picture looks like a poster for a horror film. The 
blank walls and burnt sepia tones give it an aged, tomblike quality. 
The saint's rapt devotion to Mary, is dreamy and hypnotic, both 

1 97 

1 98 


obsessive and obsessing to a baffled child's eye. He is one of the 
pretty boys who are everywhere in Italian art, notably in the creamy- 
skinned, homoerotic Saint Sebastian and Saint Michael statues that 
seemed to me, from my toddler's perspective in the church pew, far 
more interesting than those of Jesus, Mary, or Joseph. My grand- 
mothers saint locks eyes with the Madonna, typifying the intense 
relations of mothers and sons in Mediterranean culture. As a monk, 
he will not marry; like the priests of Cybele, he will remain the son- 
lover of the goddess. 

As the years passed, the saint's picture accumulated more and 
more meaning. It became one of my personal icons, representing 
not only the sacred omphalos-spot of my grandmother's house but 
the essence of Italian Catholicism itself, which is both a religion and 
the nation's cultural identity, descending from pagan antiquity. The 
saint's quiet, cloistered contemplativeness symbolized for me the 
beckoning life of the scholar, a vocation with monastic origins, par- 
ticularly rich in my family's past because of the nearness of our 
village of Ccccano to the great Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, 
founded in the sixth century. 

My disaffection from American Catholicism, which began dur- 
ing my adolescence in the late Fifties, was due partly to its strident 
anti-sex rhetoric and partly to its increasing sclf-Protestantization 
and suppression of its ethnic roots. Within twenty years, Catholic 
churches looked like airline terminals — no statues, no stained-glass 
windows, no shadows or mystery or grandeur. No Latin, no litanies, 
no gorgeous jeweled garments, no candles — so that the ordinary 
American church now smells like baby powder. Nothing is left to 
appeal to the senses. The artistic education of the eye that I received 
as a child in church is denied to today's young Catholics. 

The polychrome images of tortured saints that are a staple of 
Italian and Spanish Catholicism contain brutal truths about the 
pagan realities of the body. Suburban American Catholicism, with 
its soothing bourgeois banalities, has censored out all the horror and 
ecstasy of human experience. The skull and lilies of my grandmoth- 
er's picture arc a Catholic version of the Hindu cycle of birth and 
death, which we Westerners think we can transcend. As Frazer 
showed, the resurrection story, the triumph over death, originated 
mythologically in ancient nature-cults of the dying god. 


1 99 

Mediterranean culture is honest about death, which it does not 
sentimentalize or conceal from children. The skull over the cradle: 
Italian funerals feature open caskets and corpse-kissing, just as rural 
Italian families rear their young with useful life lessons of rough 
play. As a child, I learned to be wary about kisses from laughing 
old widows, who would give one a sharp nip in the ear lobe for fun. 
The first line of my autobiography would read: My people were 
nursed by the she-wolf. 

In 1986, having survived my grandfather Felice for twenty years, 
my grandmother died at the age of ninety, and her house was sold. 
I took as my heirlooms my grandfather's battered chisel, which 
symbolizes for me the Italian love of labor and our genius for stone- 
work and construction; a chipped carving knife, honed and danger- 
ous as a scythe, souvenir of the kitchen, the center of domestic cult; 
the rusted clothesline reel that hung behind the house for fifty years, 
instrument of the old sun-blessed rituals of purification; and the 
gloomy saint's picture — which, quite understandably, no one else 
in the family wanted for a minute in his or her home. Intensely 
coveted but inherited by default, the picture is one of my most 
treasured possessions. 

My grandmother never satisfactorily explained how our family 
acquired the picture in the first place. We suspect it must have come 
from a monastery high in the hills above Ceccano, on the road to 
Castro di Volsci, whose name ("Camp of the Volscians") recalls 
the region's fierce pre-Roman tribal history. As for the saint's iden- 
tity, we assumed it was forever lost. 

Five years after my grandmother's death, there was a burst of 
publicity in American newspapers about an Italian saint whom a 
Virginia man, an activist "defender of bearing arms," was nomi- 
nating to be "the patron saint of handgunners." The saint, shown 
in a black Passionist cape with its big white heart-and-cross emblem, 
looked exactly like my grandmother's saint, now grown up. He was 
Francis Possenti, called Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowing Mother, who 
was born in 1838 in Assisi, died young of tuberculosis in 1862, and 
was canonized in 1920. 

All my life, I had seen in the picture a meek, mild-mannered 
youth, studious, sensitive, and withdrawn. But astonishingly, the 
real-life Francis Possenti had been quite different. A wild teenager 



known for gambling, riding, and shooting, he decided to become a 
priest, against his wealthy father's wishes, after a near-fatal illness. 
While he was studying at the Passionist monastery at Isola, twenty 
bandits attacked the town, plundering and torching it. Possenti, 
armed with a pistol, faced down the marauders and demonstrated 
his marksmanship by shooting a lizard through the head. The ban- 
dits were shamed into surrendering their weapons. The town was 

Whether one believes in God or not, the lives and legends of 
the saints are a never-ending source of instruction and illumination. 
Saint Gabriel, with his skull, his lilies, and his pistol, is my ideal 
patron. The monks of the old country were a robust and fractious 
lot, alternating daily between the spiritual and practical lives. Re- 
ligious and intellectual conviction should never be genteel. We must 
be ready to take to the streets to resist and expel the pillagers, even 
when they are of the town. I offer the persona of the pistol-packing 
monk to today's students, tomorrow's teachers. 


Gay men have played a pivotal role in my personal and intel- 
lectual development. They shaped my aesthetic, expanded my 
world-view, sharpened my conversational style, and civilized my 
tomboy rowdiness. Through them, I completed my break from 
American Catholicism, under whose capricious rules I had been 
seething since adolescence. 

Women who consorted with gay men used to be called "fag 
hags." The term was dismissively applied to a certain kind of hov- 
ering, heterosexual mother figure, disappointed in love, who in- 
dulged and coddled her charges and listened and worried without 
blaming or shaming. That wasn't me. My rough manner and am- 
biguities of gender and sexual orientation made me the comrade of 
gay men, not their nurse. Together, we defied bourgeois convention 
and moral law. Like the Romantics, we were brothers in crime. 

Six gay men were central to my life. Robert Gaserio has been 
my loyal friend, intimate confidant, and professional ally since grad- 
uate school at Yale. Kent Christensen has been my colleague, ad- 
visor, and consultant in all things cultural for the past ten years at 
the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Both are lifelong political 
liberals and, at the same time, gentlemen in the traditional sense: 
courteous, cultivated, humanitarian. 




This essay is a portrait of the other four, whose sexual personae 
broke the rules and whose refusals and rebellion belong to the public 
record of my generation. Bruce Benderson, a childhood friend, in- 
troduced me to Stephen Jarratt and Stephen Feld during my first 
year (1964-65) at Harpur College, at the State University of New 
York at Binghamton. The three became my coterie, the only group 
I have ever happily flourished in. Their contributions to the creation 
of the campy, semimythic diva and deranged gender-neutral entity, 
"Camille Paglia," are immeasurable. 

In 1972, the philosopher James Fessenden and I, both fresh out 
of graduate school, met as young faculty members at Bennington 
College. We immediately became constant companions. Like Caserio 
and Christensen (and another of my Bennington friends, Richard 
Tristman), Fessenden had attended Columbia University, whose 
sweeping history-of-ideas curriculum seemed to produce minds pe- 
culiarly sympathetic to my own. It was Fessenden with whom I was 
in most sustained contact throughout the long process of writing 
Sexual Personae. For twenty years, until his death from AIDS in 1992, 
we were a festive, competitive symposium of two. 


I met Bruce Benderson after my family moved to Syracuse in 1957, 
when I was ten. My father, a high-school teacher in rural Oxford, 
New York, had enrolled as a graduate student in Romance languages 
at Syracuse University. We lived in graduate student housing, a 
crowded complex of dilapidated army barracks spread on rolling 
drumlin hills. Bruce's family situation was quite different. His father 
was a prominent attorney; his mother, a Democratic activist, was 
the most famous woman politician in upstate New York. The Bend- 
ersons lived in Bradford Hills, as exclusive a residential area as I 
had ever seen, though by today's lavish standards, their house was 
relatively modest. 

From the start, Bruce questioned the security and affluence of 
his upbringing. He was the first of the contemporaries of my ac- 
quaintance to "protest," to go against the grain, to put himself on 
the line for a political ideal. The 1950s have been grossly sentimen- 
talized by recent popular culture. Far from being the carefree 



"Happy Days" of hamburg joints, convertibles, and sock hops, the 
period could be a living hell for nonconformists and minorities like 
blacks, Jews, or gays. As a nonathletic, intellectual Jewish boy, Bruce 
suffered endless rejections and humiliations in a schoolyard world 
that worshiped WASP good looks and social success, the values of 
the fraternities, sororities, Protestant churches, and country clubs 
that ruled Syracuse life. 

Partly inspired by his Russian immigrant mother's liberalism, 
Bruce identified with the underdog and all victims of tyranny. My 
early encounters with him were not always pleasant. Bruce resented 
and denounced my rude impatience with passive, clingy classmates, 
whiny girls whom I reduced to tears. Later, he realized that, clumsy 
and brutal as I was, I was reviving feminism in a period when it 
was totally dormant. And I was to realize that Bruce's compassion 
for the outsider and the loser belonged to his larger critique of 
bourgeois society and political oppression. I also came to appreciate 
Bruce's extraordinary intuitive understanding of the complex psy- 
chology of the wounded, suffering, or masochistic woman — typified 
by Marilyn Monroe, whom he took seriously long before anyone 

Bruce was the only visible beatnik on the cultural landscape in 
junior and senior high school in Syracuse. He was the first person 
who knew about Bob Dylan or read French avant-garde literature. 
He was "arty" without being effete. Bruce is large, robust, tending 
toward corpulence. His peasant vigor, so much like mine, still draws 
us together. There was always a satirical zest to his esoteric interests. 
For example, in high school he somehow got hold of a battered 
department-store mannequin, which he christened "Nadja," after 
Andre Breton's novel. This led to a long-running joke, which I 
rehearse to this day with our friend Ann Jamison (whom Bruce, in 
a desperate stab at normalcy, took to the senior prom for forty fiasco- 
filled minutes). "Nadja!" we shout, "your bust has arrived and is 
banging its boobs on the door!" Probably inspired by The Twilight Zone, 
we had re-created the comic surrealism of Bunuel and Dali's Un 
Chien andalou without having heard of it. 

When Bruce and I ended up at the same college, we discovered 
the full extent of our mutual intellectual and artistic interests and 
forged a permanent bond, preserved, even when we have lived 



hundreds of miles apart, by long, intense phone calls at any time of 
day or night. In thirty years, I have never had a conversation with 
Bruce in which I did not learn something new. He is the most original 
thinker I have ever known. Bruce has the aggressive verbal and 
analytic style of the Talmudic tradition, combined with the hipster 
slant of modern urban Bohemia. With his voracious appetites, hu- 
morous lewdness, and polymorphous-perverse body language, he 
reminds me of Allen Ginsberg, one of my heroes. His discourse, a 
synthesis of psychoanalysis, literature, and politics, parallels that of 
another of my heroes, Norman O. Brown. But Bruce, consistent with 
my generation's multimedia ambitions, has added film, pop culture, 
and the visual arts to the mix. 

Like me, and no one else we knew, Bruce was passionately 
committed to becoming a writer from adolescence on. While I was 
drawn to both scholarship and journalism (I was editor of our high 
school newspaper), Bruce had no interest whatever in nonfiction, a 
choice I continue to lament today, since I know his amazing aptitude 
for cultural commentary. The short story and novel forms have been 
Bruce's primary focus. In college his experiments in poetry were 
disastrously terminated when an eminent creative writing teacher, 
in a private office conference, expressed disgust at the homosexual 
content of his work, a traumatic moment still painful to Bruce after 
all these years. But at Harpur there was a literary ferment going on 
outside the classroom. Our group was reading Baudelaire, Rimbaud, 
Mallarme, Lorca, and Genet, as well as contemporary American 

After graduation, Bruce lived in New York during the period of 
the Stonewall riots and then, with Stephen Jarratt and Stephen Feld, 
moved to San Francisco, the capital of the counterculture. There he 
began to read Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute as well as the 
French poststructuralists, whom he absorbed and admired before 
their usurpation and distortion by American academics. Bruce traces 
his writing aesthetic to three influences: decadent French Roman- 
ticism, from Baudelaire to Huysmans; the American Beat movement, 
notably William Burroughs, John Rechy, and Hubert Selby, Jr.; and 
the French nouveau roman of the Fifties and Sixties. Bruce has always 
found in French culture greater intellectual freedom as well as a 
Mediterranean pleasure principle missing from America, with its 



Puritan heritage. He visited France for long periods and ended up 
translating or co-translating a series of French authors, including 
Philippe Sollers and Pierre Guyotat. The Sollers translation was 
done in collaboration with Ursule Molinaro, a French-born avant- 
garde novelist who became Bruce's mentor and muse. 

Despite every discouragement, Bruce pursued his writing in a 
period when publishing became increasingly commercial. He burst 
out irately to me, "I can't look at The New York Times Book Review 
more than once every two years without going to New York Hospital 
with a false heart attack!" When he left San Francisco for New York 
in 1974, he chose to live on the Lower East Side, which was in a 
shambles. As a writer, he felt a special rapport with heroin addicts, 
the homeless, and the mentally ill, all of whom were invisible at the 
time to American journalists and politicians. Visiting Bruce, I would 
pick my way in horrified exasperation past the derelicts and the 
garbage. It was many years before I fully understood what he was 
doing by settling in that neighborhood and opening a dialogue with 
the people of the street. He was determined to isolate and explode 
the repressed assumptions of bourgeois culture, and in this enterprise 
I he has been my most important guide. The insights of his rigorous 
class-analysis were crucial in my guerrilla warfare against estab- 
lishment feminism, which had made such a reactionary retreat from 
Sixties values. 

Despite the boldness with which he had asserted the right to 
f homosexual love in college, Bruce did not feel comfortable with the 
new gay activism that followed the Stonewall rebellion in 1969. He 
found, to his discomfort, that he did not get along with many gay 
men, and the feeling was mutual. He was bored by the middle-class 
complacencies of the gay bar scene, disguised under unconvincing 

I costumes of denim and leather. He loved drag queens, without being 
attracted to them, and loathed the way post-Stonewall gays rejected 
the queens and everything effeminate. Strong-willed straight women, 
in the model of his celebrated mother, remained his principal con- 
fidantes. He has always been comfortable with what he calls his 
| "heterosexual component" and has slept with dozens of women, 

I with sometimes complicated results. He speaks of the "lure and 
excitement and power" that women have for him, even though his 
overwhelming interest has been men. 



Brucc's love life began to center more and more on the dangerous 
streets between Times Square and the Hudson River. He became a 
regular at seedy bars frequented by tcenaged Puerto Rican hustlers, 
most of whom are straight but who survive by selling their sexual 
favors to men. He began to befriend ex-convicts and visit prisoners. 
Our conversations would be interrupted by emergency collect calls 
from inmates at Attica or Rikcrs Island. Like most of Brucc's friends, 
I was highly apprehensive about all this and direly predicted he 
would be robbed, injured, or worse. After several years, we stopped 
nagging him, since he seemed remarkably sure-footed in that un- 
stable underworld. There were incidents and imbroglios, but he 
escaped serious harm. His discoveries were of the highest social 
significance: for example, the radical differences of worldview be- 
tween the industrial working class and the so-called underclass, the 
"people of the rain forest," who, he said, "faced life and death issues 
with cavalier machismo." And he had a materially positive effect 
on several cherished hustlers. One in particular, who eventually left 
the street life to obtain his high-school diploma, became like a son 
to him. When Bruce took me to his favorite dive on 46th Street (the 
evening ended in turmoil, as the bouncer ejected a gun-waving pa- 
tron), we met a magically beautiful blonde transsexual nodding out 
on heroin on a tottering bar stool and dreamily reminiscing about 
the final hours of her "friend," Marilyn Monroe. We kissed and 
caressed her soft hand in tribute. 

Bruce's writing increasingly drew on his first-hand experiences 
with male prostitutes, transvestites, convicts, and drug addicts. As 
American culture changed, after the materialistic era of the Seventies 
and Eighties, his work began to find a more receptive audience. By 
the late Eighties, his stories were appearing in various arts magazines 
and were eventually published as a collection, Pretending to Say No 
(Plume Books, 1990). His second book is his first novel, User (Dutton, 
1994). Bruce also cowrote the screenplay for My Father Is Coming 
(1991) with the German director Monika Treut, a sexual freethinker 
who was equally tired of gay and feminist orthodoxy. Meeting me 
at Bruce's apartment, she was struck by my bizarre brand of comic 
Amazonism and put me carrying on with Bruce in her next film, 
Female Misbehavior (1992). Treut, who obtained her doctorate with 
a scholarly study of sadomasochism, has become my most important 



ally in the international movement for a progressive pro-porn, anti- 
dogma feminism. 

After AIDS was identified and had claimed hundreds of lives 
in New York and San Francisco, Bruce went through a period of 
severe anxiety, in which the slightest symptom seemed a harbinger 
of death. He was scrupulous about practicing safe sex with hustlers, 
not so much to protect himself from them as vice versa. He applied 
a ritualistic standard of cleanliness to his sexual encounters. In all 
moral dilemmas or debates he explicitly invoked the standards of 
"the ethical Jew," here above all. As the years passed, he showed 
no signs of illness and remains healthy today. But I will never forget 
a daffy exchange in 1 984 as I drove him from Manhattan to Syracuse 
for our twentieth high-school reunion, the first time we had seen our 
WASP sirens and tyrants since graduation. Somewhere between 
Albany and Utica on the Thruway, I tried to distract him from his 
obsessive examination of his dry skin patches and minutely swollen 
armpit glands. Listening to the radio, I vaguely asked him, apropos 
of nothing, "Did Pat Benatar have a nose job?" He peevishly shot 
back, "Does she have a face? They don't operate on mice." 

Bruce and I carry each other's complete biographies in our 
mental data base. We have listened to and harangued each other 
and mutually processed every item of our respective romantic od- 
yssey and creative quest. I listen with exquisite attention to what 
he says, since I have learned that wherever Bruce is, the culture will 
be five years later. This was most striking in his fascination with 
Japan in the early 1970s. He traveled to Tokyo, decorated his apart- 
ment with kimonos and a massive shoji screen, and learned to pre- 
pare sushi — a delicacy totally unknown to me that enamored me 
for life. I remember sitting with glassy-eyed astonishment, staring 
at the supple bamboo sushi molds, as Bruce exuberantly described 
the critical step of fanning the hot rice — as if it were a fainting 
Southern belle. Five years later, Japan, as a trade rival, had moved 
massively into American consciousness. 

An enormous part of my friendship with Bruce has been our 
love of movies, in particular the "women's pictures" of the Holly- 
wood studio period. We spend hours on the phone discussing Lana 
Turner, Jane Wyman, Carroll Baker, Ann-Margret, or his specialty, 
Joan Crawford, never a favorite of mine until I heard Bruce's bril- 



liant dissections of her mature sexual persona. We constantly ex- 
change showbiz minutiae and arcana, a gay male expertise I have 
never found, to my despair, in lesbians. For many years, Bruce 
assisted his friend the Argentinean novelist Manuel Puig (in exile 
in Rio de Janeiro) by systematically videotaping the most obscure 
vintage B-movies that turned up on New York television in the 
middle of the night. I love to command Bruce to recite whole pas- 
sages of dialogue from our cult films, particularly those in female 
voices, which he imitates with fiendish facility. With his raucous, 
disruptive humor and gift for mimicry, he could easily have been a 
radio disk jockey or stand-up comedian. 

Our relationship has usually been one of warring siblings. As 
we chat about people, art, or current events, each of us struggles for 
interpretative dominance. When one is subsequently proved wrong, 
the other never forgets it. We crow over victories, recite past tri- 
umphs, and are generally insufferable. There has been an odd ethnic 
cross-identification in us from the start. Bruce is fascinated by 
Roman Catholicism and collects sacred memorabilia: hanging on 
his wall is a large, doleful stone relief of one of the Stations of the 
Cross, taken from a demolished church. I, in turn, was always drawn 
to Judaism and, in junior high school, was curtly overruled by my 
parents when I wanted to join the Jewish Community Center. My 
mentors, such as Milton Kessler and Harold Bloom, have always 
been Jews — the only people, I've joked, who can stand me. Bruce's 
favorite saint, as I learned at grisly length, is Lydwine of Schiedam, 
whose picturesque mortifications (fasting on a drop of wine per day 
and counting her giant, worm-filled abscesses) were catalogued by 
our revered French Decadent oblate, Huysmans. 

Bruce and I are often at swordspoint on questions of morality, 
which despite his bohemianism, he cannot fully renounce. He be- 
lieves not in God or religion but in social justice, though, like me, 
he detests the condescending paternalism of victim-oriented social- 
welfare workers and bourgeois philanthropists. He is baffled by the 
Italian clan mentality and its savage code of vengeance. The Greco- 
Roman strain is very pronounced in me; I see the vendetta as jolly, 
historical, knee-in-the-groin sport. But of course athletics is foreign 
to Bruce ("I hate projectiles!" he booms). The same thing with cars: 
I adore them; Bruce loathes them. He is a lover of cities, in all their 



grime and decay; his hatred of suburbia is due partly to its bland 
sanitization and partly to its dependence on driving. He feels ago- 
raphobic in vast parking lots. I, on the other hand, can breathe free 
only in wide-open spaces under a big sky. And my car is my mas- 
culine, mobile superself, transcending the here and now. 

One of my principal bonds with gay men is our love of por- 
nography, which we see as liberating and never, in the standard 
feminist way, as degrading. The pro-sex feminists I have encountered 
are rarely as raunchy and ribald as gay men in their taste for porn. 
Bruce's lusty appreciation of the most extreme forms of pornography 
was crucial as I developed my theory of the unity of art and por- 
nography for Sexual Personae. The libidinal is Bruce's great ideal. He 
despises all ideology that kills libido — in gay activism, feminism, or 
organized religion. The ultimate Sixties principle in his philoso- 
phy of life is his Romantic view of the interpenetration of energy 
and eroticism. 


If Bruce Benderson, with his excesses and assertions, is a Baroque 
personality on the grand scale, Stephen Jarratt is a cool mathe- 
matical grid of abstract minimalism. The contrast between these 
two friends could not be more marked. Bruce would devour an entire 
package of chocolate Oreo cookies at a sitting, while Jarratt (as we 
called him, to distinguish him from Stephen Feld) nourished himself 
through his job at the college snack bar by consuming pickle chips 
and soda water all day. Bruce physically resembles stout, mischie- 
vous Bacchus figures like Federico Fellini or Zero Mostel, while 
Jarratt, with his tall, slim frame, dusky skin, handsome, craggy 
features, and diffident reserve, looks like a melancholy Heathcliffor 
brooding Byronic poet. He is given to long silences, from which you 
expect him to say, "Call me Ishmael." 

Bruce, Feld, and I grew up in immigrant families, so we had a 
very clear sense of Jarratt's WASP heritage and its centrality to 
American culture. At the same time, we saw how this had marooned 
him historically and how we were somehow more active, more op- 
timistic, freer. Jarratt was like Poe's Roderick Usher, the last of an 
ancient dynasty, trapped in his own solitary imagination. His family 

2 1 O 


was from Missouri and Kansas, in the traditional, conservative Mid- 
west. His father was an Air Force officer who moved from post to 
post. Jarratt's residence abroad, including a pivotal year and a half 
of adolescence in Morocco, gave him a discernible air of cosmopol- 
itanism. His spiritual struggles as a gay man were intricately in- 
volved in his antipathy to the militarism of his background. Like 
Jim Morrison of the Doors, whose father was a naval officer, he 
rebelled against his father's concept of masculinity. Ironically, with 
his perfect manners, graceful gestures,. deep, mellifluous voice, and 
matinee-idol good looks, Jarratt was most women's dreamboat ideal 
man. There is something of Jarratt's manner and appearance in 
Mark Frechette's oblique performance in Antonioni's Zabriskie Point 
(1970), whose female lead, Daria Halprin, beautifully captures the 
electric intelligence and sensuality of Sixties hippie girls. 

Our generation was in open revolt against the conformism and 
careerist regimentation of the Fifties, symbolized by the film The 
Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). Jarratt's mode of resistance was 
passivity and paralysis, which he eloquently articulated with dry 
black humor, punctuated by his characteristic long pauses. His re- 
finement and stoic withdrawal were like those of Huysmans's aris- 
tocratic Des Esseintes. As a consummate aesthete and connoisseur, 
Jarratt represents for me the highest development of modern gay 
culture. His eye for color, line, and form was exquisite, an innate 
talent that cannot be explained by social conditioning. His discourse 
on color tones — in films, paintings, fabrics, or sunlight — was spell- 
binding. The shadings of red, blue, violet, green: Jarratt made us 
see them as material presences in the world. 

For Jarratt, perception was everything. He moved in an envelope 
of Zenlike stillness, which caught up and tranquilized even manic 
creatures like me. Jarratt seemed the real-life embodiment of Walter 
Pater's doctrine of pure contemplativeness. This visionary aspect of 
the psychedelic Sixties has been too much ignored in retrospective 
surveys by the media. The Vietnamese war was only one element 
in that turbulent decade and has been overstressed, because it and 
the demonstrations against it were photographable, while individ- 
ualistic inwardness was not. Jarratt read widely but left little mark 
in the classroom. Authenticity resided for him in quiet reflection and 
the sharp, truthful observation, shared with friends. His psycholog- 


21 1 

ical sense was acute and bonded him to women, whom he treated 
with a mixture of caution and respect because of his ambivalent 
relations with his powerful, opinionated mother. 

If Jarratt was my priest of perception, the cinema was our 
church. We worshiped the screen with religious fervor. No one has 
adequately documented the revolutionary impact of art films on my 
generation. From the moment I saw Roman Polanski's unsettling 
Knife in the Water in my first week of college, I was enslaved and 
enamored. At Harpur, moviegoing had cult status. My group in 
particular believed that avant-garde thought was being created, 
frame by frame, in and through film. When Antonioni's languorous 
L'Avventura was shown, the crowded college auditorium emptied 
within twenty-five minutes — except for a scattering of holdouts, in- 
cluding my three friends and me. Monica Vitti's beaky nose and 
windswept hair shot this way and that on a rocky island — superb! 
Jean Cocteau's eerie Orphe'e, with its angelic poet, leatherboy mo- 
torcyclists, and dominatrix of death, nearly gave us cardiac arrest. 
When Andy Warhol's Harlot was shown, again the theater emptied, 
and again we were virtually alone, this time in the front row. An 
expressionless drag queen, ringed by an imperceptibly shifting honor 
guard, slowly peels a banana and eats it, as gossips chatter offscreen. 
It takes twenty long minutes. We were ecstatic and stayed for a 
second showing. Midway through each, Bruce wandered up on stage 
and did an absurdist mime in front of the screen, to protest the 
audience's restlessness and to signal our connection with Warhol's 

There are two commercial films I associate with Jarratt, since 
we saw them together at their release in downtown Binghamton. 
One was Joseph Losey's Secret Ceremony (1968). In an essay on Eliz- 
abeth Taylor, I have described the moment when Jarratt and I cried 
out simultaneously, as the star abruptly appeared in a violet suit 
and turban against a wall of sea-green tiles. It was one of the high- 
lights of my life, an aesthetic epiphany in which joy and pain were 
equally mixed. Losey, a gay leftist expatriate, was Jarratt's favorite 
director, and we tracked his films for years, sharing information, 
hunches, and insights. Thanks to Jarratt's tutelage, I absorbed Lo- 
sey's decadent scenarios and suave formalism into my philosophy 
of art, as it was to be elaborated in Sexual Personae. 

2 12 


The other commercial film was Valley of the Dolls (1967), where, 
at an afternoon showing in the near-deserted Binghamton theater, 
Jarratt and I made unforgivable spectacles of ourselves. Crippled 
with helpless laughter, we were literally on the floor. At every glimpse 
of a female forearm sporting a clunky, futuristic wristwatch, Jarratt 
had convulsions. I was dazzled by the trashy dialogue and spacey 
Courreges costumes. Valley of the Dolls, which quickly disappeared, 
remained one of my all-time favorite films, and I followed it avidly 
when it resurfaced long afterward in shortened, censored form on 
late-night TV. Its West Coast resurrection and restoration in the 
late Eighties as a gay male classic stunned and delighted me. But 
why was I surprised? I seem to have the soul of a gay man. 

Certain music reminds me of Jarratt, such as Lotte Lenya's 
classic versions of the ironic Weill-Brecht Berlin songs, then widely 
available in an elegant double album. Jarratt loved Peggy Lee's "Is 
That All There Is?," with its brittle, boozy, devil-may-care litany 
of life's sorrows. He played Ravel's "La Valse" for me, and after 
some initial impatience, I marveled with him at its escalating ca- 
cophony and apocalyptic rhythm, its danse macabre of cultural break- 
down. Erik Satie's witty, aimless piano pieces and Ravel's and 
Debussy's rich, sinister string quartets were central to our coterie. 
At the off-campus Binghamton house Bruce shared with Feld, the 
unfurled album cover of Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde hung like a 
hazy icon on the wall. It was there that I first saw the artful tangled- 
hair cover of the Beatles' Revolver album and listened to its glossy 
music in mute wonder. The Doors' moody Strange Days encapsulated 
our alienation in the depressing pre-Stonewall gay world. Jarratt 
remembers the "grim," shabby Binghamton bar where gays con- 
gregated. Visiting Greenwich Village, we had to knock with trepi- 
dation on a tiny barred door on pitch-black Barrow Street to be 
gruffly admitted to a sterile, cramped space lurid with dim red light. 
It was like a circle of Hell. The theme music for that bleak period 
in our lives is the first Velvet Underground album and Bob Dylan's 
"Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Desolation Row." Those songs haunt- 
ingly express our crushing sense of isolation and abandonment as 
citizens of Sodom. 

Jarratt was a collector of neuroses, his own and others'. Part of 



the beatnik heritage of the Sixties was the fashion for quirky neu- 
roticism, a badge of personal style — quite unlike today's boring 
generic categories like "incest survivor" or "child of alcoholic par- 
ents." Jarratt was the first person I knew who had "anxiety attacks." 
His modernist moods always had a metaphysical dimension. He was 
like a psychic barometer of Blake's "invisible worm that flies in the 
night in the howling storm." Jarratt's first Harpur roommate, who 
suffered from a tyrannical father and was under psychiatric care, 
dreamed every night that he was dribbling oranges down an all- 
white basketball court. Working with Jarratt at the snack bar was 
a large, plump, warm-hearted but compulsive girl who snacked non- 
stop on hamburgers fried in butter and who one day plucked out 
all her eyelashes and eyebrows in a fit (they took a year to grow 
back). Another high-strung girl, a pioneer of the then-unknown ma- 
lady of bulimia, screamed uncontrollably at her Jewish refugee par- 
ents in ways that were unthinkable in Italian terms. I overheard 
Jarratt, sighing, say to her over the phone as they chatted about 
friends, "I know. It's hard to talk to people who are very happy." 
Jarratt loved Antonioni's Red Desert and identified with the tortured 
Monica Vitti in it. "Certain combinations of colors would fill her 
with dread," he said to me recently. "She looked so glamourous in 
her free-floating anxiety." Like Bruce, he saw and honored the mar- 
tyrdom in the great female stars. As he once remarked, "No one 
can wring a tear like Susan Hayward." 

After graduation, Jarratt and I corresponded regularly. His let- 
ters were instantly recognizable in the mail by their sepia ink and 
bold italic script, executed with an Ozmiroid art pen. The first major 
incident I had to endure without my gay legionnaires occurred in 
the summer of 1968, when I ran smack into Catherine Deneuve on 
Fifth Avenue. She was my current obsession, and no one had a clue 
she was in America. I omit the extraneous details — a Janis Joplin 
concert at the Fillmore East, a boy on a bicycle run over by a bus, 
my pursuit of Deneuve to the glove department of Saks. Suffice it 
to say that, as the violet sky crackled with thunderbolts in the humid 
air, I fled wildly up the avenue looking for a phone booth and 
hysterically called Jarratt from the St. Regis Hotel. He was then 
working in a Binghamton laundromat (where, he likes to say, he 



learned never to put the clothes in until the detergent has dissolved). 
I felt like I was on another planet, walking among the gods but 
bereft of my boon companions and soulmates. 

Like many of the most talented members of my generation, 
Jarratt shunned the professions and took only subsistence-level 
jobs — cleaning houses in San Francisco or working for many years 
for a costume jewelery importer. As sexual personae, we were on 
reverse tracks. Galled by the low status of women in the domestic 
Fifties, I wanted passionately to achieve in the cultural realm. Am- 
bition was my leading trait. Renunciation was Jarratt's. Where he 
was passive, I was audaciously active. The militarism that he re- 
jected in his father he accepted in me, as an androgynous Aries 
warrior. For example, I struck one of the first blows for contemporary 
feminism in 1966, when, in the middle of the night on a deserted 
Binghamton street, I rescued a tiny female acquaintance of ours 
from molestation by young drunks by smashing a captor's mouth 
against his teeth with a lucky hit from my gloved hand. He had to 
be helped away, bleeding profusely. 

After several years in San Francisco, Bruce and Feld moved 
back to the East Coast. Jarratt stayed. The avant-garde city by the 
bay, a Mecca of sexual liberation to so many gay men, was to be 
one of the hatcheries of AIDS. Jarratt saw firsthand the destruction 
of our generation's hopes. When he was diagnosed with the disease 
in 1989, after being hospitalized with an episode of pneumonia, he 
bore it with his customary dignity, stoicism, and gallows humor. 
The form his illness has now taken is cytomegalovirus retinitis, a 
degeneration of the retina. It is a cruel fate for the aesthete who 
lived by his eyes. But Jarratt's vision transcends the physical. He 
has been a witness to the whirlwind of the fin de siecle. As both 
Sagittarian humanist and devotee of beauty, Jarratt embodies an 
ideal synthesis of philosophical detachment with sensory respon- 
siveness. His somber perceptions and vibrant imagination continue 
in the friends whom he altered and educated. 

[On February 2, 1994, two months after this essay was com- 
pleted, Stephen Jarratt died at forty-seven in San Francisco. He was 
totally blind.] 




As an adolescent in Syracuse, I found a secondhand copy of a book 
called The Epigrams of Oscar Wilde. It became my bible. I memorized 
its phrases and repeated them until they became part of my brain 
chemistry. Wilde's voice, malicious, incisive, insouciant, broke into 
the provincial circuit of school, church, and home in Fifties America 
like Radio Free Europe. Wilde — followed a few years later by Simone 
de Beauvoir — was my first model for radically independent thought, 
for cold, clear mind unencumbered by religious morality or social 

When I met Stephen Feld, thanks to Bruce Benderson, in col- 
lege, I was amazed to hear him speaking with Wilde's voice. I 
automatically gravitated toward him and became his unembarrassed 
fan. I followed him around like his kid sister and watched and 
listened to him raptly, remembering his witticisms and recording 
them in a notebook in my room. Feld was the real-life model for my 
extended analysis of Oscar Wilde in Sexual Personae. His everyday 
conversation was my key for understanding the brilliant rhetoric and 
dramatic dynamics of The Importance of Being Earnest. 

Feld was gregarious, brash, and wickedly funny. A Jewish prince 
from Long Island, he had been the apple of his vivacious mother's 
eye. His glasses and thinning black hair gave him an intellectual 
look, but he was well-built, with a solid, agile frame. Feld's confident, 
casual, lordly manner attracted people. He was popular with every- 
one, gay or straight. While Stephen Jarratt, like Wordsworth, was 
most himself when alone, Feld was literally "the life of the party" — 
a term I had never fully understood before. Flinging himself down 
at the piano, he would bang out medleys of Broadway show tunes 
in his muscular manner, singing at the top of his voice. His sense 
of fun was infectious. When we rendezvoused at the college dining 
hall, Feld, at my request, would do cartwheels and handsprings 
across the full length of the entry lounge. He made his own rules, 
and the world applauded. 

Virginia Woolf identified the inaugural moment (in 1908) of the 
irreverent Bloomsbury world of modernist literature and art: the 

2 16 


young Lytton Strachcy, arriving for a visit, pointed to a stain on her 
sister Vanessa's white dress and exclaimed, "Semen?" Wrote Woolf 
long afterward, "Can one really say it? I thought & we burst out 
laughing. With that one word all barriers of reticence and reserve 
went down." Victorian propriety was over. Sophisticated women of 
the Twenties and Thirties often had a freedom of speech and manner 
that was lost in the enforced hiatus of the gruelling Second World 
War. Middle-class girls of the Fifties were raised by the prudish, 
conservative code of Victorian respectability. My generation found 
many ways to rebel. Gay men were my liberators. Stephen Feld, 
above all, did for me what Lytton Strachey did for the Stephen 
sisters. His scathing wit and bold, bawdy talk broke me out of the 
jailhouse of gender. 

While he was warmhearted and generous as a host and bon vivant> 
Feld was intolerant of any kind of false sentimentality. He was far 
more accepting than I of different kinds of people, with all their 
flaws, yet he had a fearsome talent for unnerving and disorienting, 
for doing the unexpected, even if it gave pain. Hurrying to class one 
bright winter's day, he and I rounded the outer corner of a dorm 
and encountered a long-haired sylph whom I happened to have a 
crush on. I became breathless and tongue-tied, as usual, while Feld 
drolly leered. Fleeing in haste at the sight of us, the girl slipped on 
the ice and went sprawling, her books skidding ten feet in front of 
her. Feld openly laughed — the cruel Homeric laughter of Greek 
princes at the drubbing of Thersites. 

I was mortified at the girl's embarrassment yet stunned with 
strange admiration at Feld's shattering of bourgeois etiquette, his 
rejection of "niceness." It was a form of truth-telling, a frank ad- 
mission of human aggression without the mask of piety. Pre-Stone- 
wall gay men had an astonishing sense of masks, their own and 
others'. They willfully violated every politically correct tenet — in- 
cluding compassion for the handicapped, who became "criplettes." 
Whatever was forbidden had to be done or said. For our era of 
Romanticism, taboo-breaking remains the route of the heroic. 

Feld had a way of sharply rebuffing confidences at tender mo- 
ments. The pattern was inconsistent, so there was always surprise 
but not necessarily displeasure. It was conversation as rough play. 
My favorite incident dates from 1974, when I enthusiastically told 



Feld that my Yale friend Bob Caserio had spotted him recently in 
New York but that he had disappeared into a building. Feld haugh- 
tily replied, "My dear, I never disappear into buildings. I always 
linger in the doorways." End of exchange. 

Feld's brusque response fascinated me, and I thought about it 
for years. It ended up verbatim, with four pages of analysis, in the 
manuscript of Sexual Personae, one of the passages Yale Press cut for 
space at production deadline. There I had spoken of Feld as a 
practitioner of what I called Wilde's monologue exterieur, the poetry 
of the English epicene. In this particular conversation-stopper I saw 
evidence of Decadent termination or closure, the Apollonian swerve 
from Dionysian empathy, the aristocratic refusal to be drawn into 
any philanthropic sense of community. I also dwelled on Feld's use 
of the doorway as a framing device and of his self-positioning on the 
vanishing point. I detected a form of ritual display in which there 
was a paradoxical conflation of exhibitionism — even solicitation — 
and ritual sequestration, an invocation of the visual in order to 
frustrate it. 

I felt that Feld's arch riposte proved the oral continuity of the 
Wildean tradition over a hundred years and demonstrated the cold 
aesthetic formalism in modern male, as opposed to female, homo- 
sexuality. A Yale editor raised the question of legal repercussions 
from publishing such personal material. When I conveyed this, Feld 
declared, "Tell her: I've always lived my life in as public an eye as 
possible," and "I am only concerned that there is not enough about 
me." Though he offered to sign a release, the editors relegated him, 
as he gloomily put it, to "the cutting-room floor." 

Like many gay men and unlike, alas, most gay women, Feld 
had a sophisticated instinct for fine food, interior decor, and fashion. 
He owned (and used as a room-dominating coffee table) a Louis 
Vuitton trunk before the line went broadly commercial, and he 
preached the doctrine of Bloomingdale's before the store became a 
fad. At dinner, he spoke to me severely about the way I ate my 
buttered bread wholesale, instead of breaking it into delicate pieces. 
It was Feld and Jarratt who showed me that good manners were 
suprasexual civilized forms and not just, as I had fiercely thought, 
a plot by the authorities to feminize and control women. I became 
much less of a rambunctious hellion after my contact with them. 

2 18 


What few feminine attributes I may now appear to have were ab- 
sorbed from them, which is why many people who hear me speak 
have reported that, at hallucinatory moments, there seems to be a 
gay man behind the microphone. 

At parties, Feld would gather together a huge variety of people 
whose only common denominator was him. The moment he would 
step away, we would fight like cats and dogs, but his mere presence 
seemed to have a magical unifying effect. A girl in our larger college 
circle tartly remarked, "Feld has to be surrounded by people. If he 
doesn't have an audience, he doesn't exist." This was true in the 
best sense: Feld was a theatrical animal, at a time when theater and 
dance were redefining American culture. Life itself was a perfor- 
mance art for him, as for Bruce. At Harpur, I was active in my own 
one-man style of surreal psychodramas and happenings — forty elab- 
orate pranks that landed me on probation. 

Feld, who played the lead in the campus production of Ibsen's 
Rosmersholm, seemed to be considering a career in some area of show 
business. With his ingenuity, panache, and facility for making things 
happen, he belonged to the great age of vaudeville or Tin Pan Alley. 
Feld's friendship with Bruce, which had its ups and downs over the 
decades, was closest when they had common artistic interests. Their 
difficulties mirrored the conflicts in American Jewish culture, as 
portrayed in Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus, made into a wonderful 
film (1969) starring Ali MacGraw and Richard Benjamin. Bruce 
was like Benjamin's pensive character, drawn to the dispossessed 
and resisting the natural impulse toward materialism and security 
of a people, his own, who had just escaped persecution. Feld's Long 
Island, from which so many Harpur students came, was like a nation 
unto itself, a vast paradise of middle-class comforts. When I visited 
his home in Westbury, he and his mother took me to Fortunoff's, a 
fabled nearby store, to experience the human tidal wave of the sub- 
urban marketplace. Befuddled by the mad din, I clung to Feld's 
sleeve as we forced our way through the throng. It somehow made 
perfect sense that the next day, as I drove Feld and his mother 
through town, my radiator exploded, and we were stranded. 

After graduation, Feld followed the open-ended Sixties pattern 
of odd jobs. Returning from San Francisco, he worked for several 
years for travel agents in New York. Postcards would arrive from 



South America or India, where he led tour groups eleven times — 
Around the World with Auntie Mame, we joked. In his late twenties, 
Feld began a stable relationship (now twenty-one years old) with a 
research biologist, Peter Hollander. They took an Upper East Side 
apartment and acquired two tiny, frenetic shih tzu dogs, whom 
Feld named Margot (after Margot Fonteyn) and Tallulah (self- 
explanatory). In their late twenties, both men returned to school to 
study medicine. Peter became a radiologist and Feld a very successful 
Park Avenue psychiatrist, an ideal profession for someone with such 
a quick take for character and such a gift for putting people at ease. 
When the pair went shopping for a weekend country house in the 
northern Hudson River Valley, nothing would do, until the weary 
realtor said, "There is something you might like" — an old town 
grange. Feld walked in, took one look at the platform, and cried, 
"At last, my very own stage! We'll take it!" The remodeled grange 
of course became a showplace. Feld has, in a sense, reimagined and 
reworked the stable married life of his parents' world. But under- 
neath it all, his Wildean elitism remains: he subscribes to Royalty, a 
British monthly that chronicles the doings of world aristocracy. 

In college, my coterie and I were Mods and beats rather than 
hippies. Feld cut a striking figure on campus in his green-vinyl car 
coat, a badge of British dandyism purchased on Carnaby Street and 
"coveted" by Jarratt. It was an exact copy, Feld boasts, of the one 
worn by Julie Christie in Paris in Darling, a favorite film of ours. I 
affected men's ties, paisley Tom Jones shirts, Edwardian pin-striped 
bell-bottoms, naval pea coats, and antique jodhpur boots. My fa- 
vorite piece of everyday clothing, however, was Feld's khaki jean 
jacket, which I appropriated like a family hand-me-down and wore 
for several years. Hard as it may be to understand now, since the 
style has become universal, it was a radical gesture for a woman 
then. Hippie girls did don their boyfriends' jean jackets, but only 
with reinforced feminine iconography — long, flowing hair, peasant 
blouses, dirndl skirts. I aggressively wore Feld's jacket with cropped 
hair and trousers (as can be seen in a period photo reproduced in 
my Vanity Fair profile of September 1992). The hippie clique who 
ruled the student-center scene didn't like it one bit, as I certainly 
heard while traversing the snack bar on the way to class. 

Feld remains for me the symbol of modern gay men's extraor- 



dinary power of personality. His aplomb, audacity, and whiplash 
one-liners — delivered with perfect comic timing and his character- 
istic European shrug — made him the perfect companion and tutor 
for a raging young woman in flight from bourgeois conformism. I 
can still hear his inimitable voice twenty years later, in episode after 
episode from our lives. 

Discussing a friend of his, I asked, "Does she have a good sense 
of humor?" Feld replied, "Not really. But she laughs at all my jokes. 
I consider that the highest form of humor." When he complained 
about the vast amount of information he had to master in medical 
school, I said it was well-known that the brain has large numbers 
of unused cells. Feld shot back: "My brain is full. Every time I 
memorize a medical fact, I forget something about a Betty Grable 

Of a stylishly eccentric college friend of ours who had played 
Death in Lorca's Blood Wedding, Feld said to me half a decade after 
graduation, "Leona has tried for years to look like everyone else, 
and she's finally succeeded." Of her and another Harpur original, 
a voluptuous blonde hippie nymph who became one of the organizers 
of the People's Park protest at Berkeley, Feld sighed, "My dear, we 
are the only ones who have retained our mythic stature." 

In 1976, when he and Peter were visiting me in Bennington, 
Feld described a recent visit to a gay bar in Boston: "We were 
wearing jeans and a shirt, and we were overdressed. You had to 
have grease on your hands to get in." The next year, while I was 
breakfasting at his mother's house, my eyes quizzically met his as 
he poured salt profusely over his plate. He defiantly proclaimed, 
"I'm on a salt-free diet. I use salt freely." It was impossible to corner 
or capture him. He was as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. With 
a wisecrack and a toss of the head, he would have kept the Spanish 
Inquisition at bay. 

Bruce Benderson, Stephen Jarratt, and Stephen Feld were the 
crucible of consciousness out of which Sexual Personae was born. They 
directly inspired many of my images and ideas, and they embodied 
an avant-garde philosophy of life based on free speech, intellectual 
curiosity, sexual adventure, and theatrical individualism. As I lec- 
ture at colleges and universities across America, I am distressed by 
the banal sameness of so much student life. Different races, ethnic- 


22 1 

ities, social classes, and speech patterns have been systematically 
dissolved into a bourgeois blandness that I thought we got rid of 
after the Fifties. I feel fortunate in my friends, who in the Sixties 
way dared to think and act on a grand scale. For me, creative 
enterprise began at home, with my adoptive family of the mind. 


James Fessenden, like Stephen Jarratt, came from conservative Prot- 
estant Midwestern stock, centered in Indiana and Illinois. His Brit- 
ish roots were well-documented: the Fessenden family tree was 
centuries old and was outlined in a privately published volume that 
Jim paid no attention to. When I first met him in 1972 as a fellow 
new colleague on the Bennington College faculty, his outlandish 
Sixties costume made him look like a sybaritic eighteenth-century 
squire: knee-high crimson-suede lace-up boots, crushed-velvet trou- 
sers, mutton-sleeve silk shirts, military greatcoat, and long, curly, 
unkempt dirty-brown hair hanging to the waist, as thick as a periwig. 
With Jim's chubby cheeks and heavy eyeglasses, it made a strange 

Fessenden, as I tended to call him except in our private mo- 
ments, was tall (6' "4"), strong, and broad-shouldered. He was made 
for football, but he despised athletics and took no exercise except 
walking. His body language was languid, luxurious, half-female, like 
that of Delacroix's lounging Sardanapalus. Like me, he was an Aries 
and an only child (my sister was born when I was 14, after my 
personality was, for better or worse, fully formed). We instantly 
recognized each other as fellow aesthetes, passionate devotees of the 
religion of art and admirers of Friedrich Nietzsche. 

Naturally, I wanted to integrate Fessenden into my college circle 
of gay men. But my first efforts were disastrous, and I gave up. At 
a restaurant dinner I arranged in New York, Bruce Benderson and 
Fessenden bristled at each other, and the evening ended in open 
hostility when Fessenden showed undisguised interest in meeting 
Bruce's current flame and housemate, a gorgeous Japanese youth 
named Nobuo. I remember thinking to myself, gay they may be but 
men they still are, with all the snorting, hoof-stomping territoriality 



of bison. Bruce was indignant for years afterward. The two never 
met again. 

Fcssenden initially came to Bennington to fill in for a year, while 
an elderly woman philosopher was on leave. He ended up staying 
longer but was finally terminated because, it was rumored, there 
had been complaints that to win entrance to the in-group of phi- 
losophy students, one had to take drugs with the two young male 
teachers and hang out at their on-campus faculty houses. There may 
have been some truth in this. Fessenden and his best friend, an 
analytic philosopher and straight fellow student from Columbia Uni- 
versity who affected a rock-star look (tall and gaunt, with long, curly 
black hair and motorcycle sunglasses indoors and out), set a style 
of hip, loitering indifference that may not have profited the already 
undisciplined children of the rich and famous who were Bennington's 

At the start, we brash young Turks offered a serious challenge 
to the Bennington establishment, which was mired in a genteel lib- 
eralism long on paternalistic sentimentality and short on political 
realism. There were many gradations of left-wing to centrist thinking 
among us: my close friend, Richard Tristman, for example, had been 
fired just before the uprising at Columbia when he gave all his 
students A's as a protest against the academic system. Many of the 
faculty who went directly from graduate school to Bennington in 
the charged late Sixties and early Seventies were heady with a sense 
of destiny. We had all the arrogance of youthful talent. We felt 
intellectually superior and didn't hide it. We thought we could 
change the world overnight. Life was to teach us otherwise. 

Fessenden was politically radical throughout our friendship. He 
hated authority and the corporate values represented by his busi- 
nessman father. Though personally kind, he was contemptuous of 
the namby-pamby civilities required for college meetings and com- 
mittees. He categorically refused to play the career game required 
for advancement in academe. His nemesis was the senior woman 
philosopher, who flirted with retirement but returned to dislodge 
him. Socially well-connected and married to a trustee of the college, 
she was competent but undistinguished and far from informed about 
recent issues in her field. Fessenden came to hate her as a symbol 
of the old guard, of power and position unjustly attained. 



She blocked him, and she defeated him. I felt even then that 
Fessenden, in his justified sense of his own merits, was unnecessarily 
cruel to her. To the end of his life, he never admitted any fault in 
his handling of that first career crisis — which proved to be his last, 
since he never completed his doctoral dissertation on Nietzsche or 
found another academic job. The ferocity with which he darkly 
remembered his opponent eventually made me think she was a 
shadow of his own frigid, manipulative mother, who put the screws 
in, one Christmas in the mid-Seventies, by giving him a leatherbound 
book embossed with the title Nietzsche and as the author's name, 
"James Fessenden." The pages were blank. 

Fessenden was the most comprehensively learned person I have 
ever known. Richard Tristman, trained in literature, is also a po- 
lymath, with special knowledge of philosophy, theology, science, and 
medicine. But Fessenden's breadth of interest extended beyond the 
library from intellectual history to the visual and performing arts 
and popular culture. He had considered becoming a classical pianist. 
As a small child, he studied at the Eastman School of Music in 
Rochester. (When asked, on the entrance application, the title of his 
favorite composition, he replied, "The prelude to the third act of 
Die Walkiire" — i.e., the wild "Ride of the Valkyries.") Music suffused 
all one's encounters with Fessenden. He received visitors to his fac- 
ulty house — or later his dingy, cramped, cell-like apartment near 
Columbia on New York's Upper West Side — in a magic envelope 
of sound. He was particularly expert in opera, whose librettos he 
minutely studied in their original languages and whose performance 
history he catalogued as an avid collector of records and tapes. 

Fessenden adored dance, classical ballet above all. He never 
missed a major production in Manhattan. A dedicated visitor to 
museums and galleries, he read deeply in art history, ancient to 
modern, and followed the latest developments in contemporary 
painting and sculpture. He haunted bookstores, monitored recent 
releases, and had a wide-ranging appreciation of great poetry, 
drama, and novels, which he cited with ease. He devoured biogra- 
phies and always had some fascinating detail to relay. Like me, he 
was a movie fanatic who loved both the Hollywood studio era and 
European art films of the postwar decades. He was an aficionado of 
Alfred Hitchcock; both of us were crazy about Bernard Herrmann's 



Hitchcock scores, particularly Vertigo, of which Fessenden possessed 
a prized early recording. Our ultimate personal film as a duo was 
Jacques Rivette's surreal, three-hour, Alice-in-Paris saga, Celine and 
Julie Go Boating (1974), which we saw together and discussed with 
cultic fervor for years. 

Although he had no interest in television, Fessenden knew and 
respected popular music. One of our few quarrels was over the 
Rolling Stones' great album Aftermath, whose rich sonorities were 
destroyed, I insisted, by the new compact disc reissue that Fessenden 
was playing with pride for me. The artist I most associate with 
Fessenden is David Bowie, who was in his orange-haired, extrater- 
restrial, transsexual Ziggy Stardust phase during our early years at 
Bennington. The Aladdin Sane album, with its eerie half-embryo/half- 
mummy cover photo and its brilliant Scriabin-like piano interlude 
on the title song, is pure Fessenden for me. "All the Young Dudes," 
the ominously elegiac song that Bowie wrote for Mott the Hoople, 
always reminded me of Fessenden, even more so since his death. It 
was a dirge for the new dandyism. 

The Sixties cultural revolution, which failed to transform the 
academic or literary worlds as it should have, was contained in the 
eclectic, interdisciplinary mind of James Fessenden. Discourse with 
Fessenden was an extraordinary experience. He brought to bear on 
the moment not only his profound philosophic knowledge but his 
linguistic and etymological skills. While I never showed work in 
progress to him (or to anyone), Fessenden was my primary partner 
in dialogue and debate throughout the period when I was writing 
Sexual Personae. As I bounced ideas off him, I marveled at the com- 
bination of precision and flexibility in his thinking. He caught the 
finest shadings of every syllable. He understood the traditional sys- 
tems and the warpings I was performing on them. It was a kind of 
music: Fessenden heard the dissonance and the jazzlike improvis- 
ations I made. Never in my life, before or since, have I been so 
blissfully relaxed in serious conversation. Fessenden's consciousness, 
both reflective and perceptive, seemed to float like a hawk. He was 
a superb audience, goading one to supreme efforts, which he re- 
warded with his characteristic guffaw, handclap, or glance of arch 

A shared taste of ours that ended up writ large in Sexual Personae 



was the beautiful boy, whom I traced from Greek sculpture to Flor- 
entine art and Wilde's Dorian Gray. Only one other woman of my 
acquaintance — the London art historian and curator Kristen Lip- 
pincott, then my student at Bennington — has ever been equally 
entranced by this archetype. The Luchino Visconti film of Thomas 
Mann's Death in Venice (1971) had just been released. We went bon- 
kers over the publicity still of the seraphic, long- tressed, blonde Bjorn 
Andresen as Tadzio. Fessenden had his own Tadzio, or what I was 
to call "the beautiful boy as destroyer." He was a heartstoppingly 
handsome Italian youth named Raffaello, whom I knew only through 
a snapshot. A decade later, I asked Fessenden how long his pursuit 
of Raffaello had lasted and what it had led to. "Two years," he 
glumly replied. "It led to light bulbs being thrown at me by a 
transvestite ballerina." 

This was all I ever learned. I assume Fessenden was referring 
to his involvement with a downtown troupe of New York dancers 
who performed classical ballet in drag. Bitter rivalries split the en- 
semble into the Ballet de Trocadero and the Ballet de Monte Carlo, 
the latter going on to international success. The founder and star, 
Anthony Bassae, known as Karpova, was a close friend of Fessen- 
den's who lost control of his own company. He was stocky and round- 
faced, with the caramel skin of his native Caribbean. He had a 
magnetic presence. When Tony died in New York, an early victim 
of AIDS, Fessenden visibly mourned. There was now a permanent 
undertone of melancholy in him. 

Another, even earlier loss from Fessenden's inner circle was 
Lance Norebo, a strange creature with the height and lanky physique 
of a basketball player but the haughty manner and carriage of a 
fashion model. He had neither home nor possessions. He belonged 
to the drag queen underworld of Harlem, the phantasmagoric 
"house" culture that produced the notorious dance craze called 
"vogueing." Lance, with his skull-like chiseled cheekbones, seemed 
Asian but was apparently at least part Portuguese. He looked as 
spectral and menacing as one of Melville's harpooneers. He was a 
mysterious resident of Fessenden's apartment, coming and going at 
will. The two were not involved; Fessenden simply admired Lance's 
freedom and style. Lance scorned me as a noisy little woman — until 
I sent him a glamourous old newspaper photo of two of his heroines, 



Maria Callas and Merle Oberon, striding in matching gaucho hats 
and boots out of a lunchtime New York restaurant. My stock rose 
enormously after that. 

Once, in midafternoon, while Lance was still sleeping, his friend 
Gaga, a fellow drag queen, telephoned. Fessenden could not rouse 
the drowsy, snappish Lance. "Well," sniffed Gaga, "just tell her it's 
Audrey's birthday — and hung up in a huff. The words were barely 
out of Jim's mouth when Lance leaped from bed like a comet, flung 
on some clothes, and raced frantically out of the apartment. Audrey 
Hepburn, thanks to Breakfast at Tiffany's, was a principal divinity 
among queens, and her birthday was a high holy day. Lance ate 
next to nothing — "a few grains of rice" per day, with a cup of tea, 
according to Fessenden, who attributed Lance's lack of resistance 
to the AIDS virus to this monkish abstemiousness. When he fell ill, 
Lance was camping in an abandoned building on the Lower East 
Side, to which he had pursued a romantic interest. A month later, 
he was dead. Only afterward, as he was trying to locate Lance's 
relatives, did Fessenden realize, to our shock, that "Norebo" was a 
pseudonym: "Oberon" spelled backwards. Both Fessenden and I 
revered and honored drag queens for their power of imagination and 
imperious rejection of banal reality. 

Fessenden had returned to New York, after being forced out of 
Bennington, at exactly the moment gay bathhouse culture was mov- 
ing into high gear. I was used to accompanying my male friends to 
their bars and vice versa, a vestige of the pre-Stonewall era when 
provincial cities usually had just one gay bar, in which the sexes 
mingled. I remember when the doors of the men's bars closed in 
my face. It was probably 1974; the hostility to a female presence 
was palpable. The reason: pitch-black orgy rooms and sex shows — 
chained men sodomized in slings — were coming into fashion. Upset 
at this divorce from my friends, I tried to pass in drag. An amused 
Stephen Feld loaned me his battered leather aviator's jacket and 
smuggled me, hair slicked back, into a crowded New York bar, where 
I tried to blend. But mannish as I am, I made an unconvincing 
male and aroused notice. I had to accept the fact that, as a woman, 
I was persona non grata in the new gay garden of earthly delights. 

With his indolence, nocturnal habits, and voyeuristic tastes, 
Fessenden took to the bathhouse scene immediately. He was gen- 



erally secretive about his sex life, but he told me enough of his 
experiences there — seeing a naked, well-endowed Rudolf Nureyev, 
for example — to whet my appetite and envy. It was a realm, based 
on nudity and gargantuan promiscuity, that I obviously could never 
enter, even in drag. Fessenden's standards of hygiene were never 
that strict to begin with — another of his eighteenth-century traits, 
which worsened as the years passed. The degeneration of his apart- 
ment, uncontrollable as he became ill, is unimaginable in female 
terms. I often wonder whether the health risks in that hot, humid 
bathhouse underworld of thrilling sexual adventure would have been 
more obvious to women than to the men who, for complex reasons 
they never faced, shut women out. 

My epitaph for Fessenden: He lived, and he died. I mean by 
this that he lived life fully, sating himself on the pleasures of the 
mind and the pleasures of the body. He was not prudent. He post- 
poned no gratification. He spurned the caution and frugality of his 
Protestant ancestors. Like so many members of our generation, he 
chose sensuality and the quest for truth over pensions, security, 
materialism. With his slow, grand movements and dreamy contem- 
plativeness, he seemed to view each hour as a crystal goblet to be 
filled with rare wine. Of all my friends, he was the most inveterate 
drug-taker — marijuana and later cocaine, which surely (though he 
never admitted it) had something to do with the gold plate surgically 
installed to fill a hole in his sinus. Cocaine for him, as for Freud, 
gave clarity and command: thinking was his deepest self. At the 
end, he was making huge withdrawals for drugs from a large cash 
reserve unwisely deposited in a non-interest-bearing checking ac- 
count. It was the remnant of his inheritance from his dead parents. 
His luxury, excess, and solitude reminded me of the extravagant, 
impacted language of Gerard Manley Hopkins poems I loved in 
high school. As adolescents marooned in the provinces, Fessenden 
and I had had the same longing for sophistication and beauty. 

While our romantic lives were separate, there was one area of 
pleasure we ardently shared: food. My friendship with Fessenden 
was a symposium in the original Greek sense: we ate, drank, and 
talked ideas for hours on end. The electric connection we were trying 
to establish, as Sixties rebels, between thought and sensation was 
reified in our conduct. Eating and drinking, rather than drug-taking, 



have always been my Mediterranean mode of testing and pushing 
my own neurotransmitters. Fessenden and I were systematically 
exploring the brain. It was a psychedelic undertaking. My generation 
treated inner like outer space, which Star Trek, our symbolic saga, 
calls "the final frontier." In the theoretical terms of Sexual Personae, 
Fessenden enjoyed unusually close communication between his 
Apollonian and Dionysian sides. He fulfilled in his own being the 
dual consciousness I see as crucial for intellectuals of the twenty- 
first century. 

My substitute for LSD was Indian food, to which Fessenden 
introduced me and which became a constant theme of our exchanges. 
It began in 1973 during a short visit to Bennington by the brilliant 
British philosopher Gillian Rose, the last woman Fessenden (as a 
graduate student) had dated. She concocted a fantastic Indian soup, 
golden-mustard in color and silty with twelve fresh-ground spices. 
It packed a wallop: I was hung over for two days. In New York, 
Fessenden took me to his favorite restaurant, the hole-in-the-wall 
Bit of Bengal on upper Broadway, where I had my first ultra-hot 
lamb vindaloo, a seductive culinary rut I have never escaped, no 
matter how resolutely I scan the rest of the menu. There Fessenden, 
languorous as Lewis Carroll's hookah-smoking caterpillar, ordered 
my first ambrosial, rust-red mulligatawny soup and educated me 
about its proper ceremonious consumption. "Really, Camille," he 
thundered, as I gulped it down. Obscure Indian restaurants all over 
New York became the scene of my spice-triggered psychedelic 
"trips" with Fessenden. After our mammoth feasts, I would smoke 
a cigar as, gorged and happy, we strolled the streets. 

It was for another Indian sojourn that I rendezvoused with 
Fessenden at the big black cube sculpture on Astor Place in May 
1989. The dinner was to be celebratory: the edited manuscript of 
Sexual Personae, after endless headaches, conflicts, and white-knuckle 
negotiations, had just gotten the go-ahead for production at Yale 
Press. I had visited Fessenden only a month before, so I was not 
prepared for what I saw. His classic expression of casual, smug 
confidence was completely gone (and never to return). He looked 
sweaty and distracted. I saw desperation and fear in his eyes. The 
shock took my breath away. Earl Mountbatten said of the sudden, 
premature death of his wife, "It was a poleax blow." I knew my life 



would never be the same. A picture of my future isolation, like a 
desert landscape, flashed before me. 

Fessenden curtly fended off my concerned queries about how 
he was feeling — "too many drugs," he claimed and never budged 
from that story. He had always refused to discuss health matters, 
even bad colds, with me. We were fraternal Aries warriors; he had 
the stubborn pride and victor mentality of an athlete. Thus began 
the charade we played to the end. The word "AIDS" never passed 
between us, except about others. Before dinner that evening, we 
stopped for an errand at the apartment of one of Fessenden's mu- 
sician friends, who was traveling abroad. Sitting down at the mag- 
nificent grand piano, Fessenden began to play from memory — 
Chopin and Liszt. I had never seen him so open or vulnerable. Lost 
in thought, he was literally playing his heart out. I knew it was his 
anguished leave-taking, his farewell to what might have been. Lying 
on the Oriental carpet, I was oppressed by a sense of the tragic 
waste and self-destruction of my generation. 

At the tiny table in the dark restaurant on 6th Street, I gave an 
award-winning performance. I chattered, gossiped, entertained, and 
gobbled paratha bread and lemon pickle as usual. Pointedly spearing 
and devouring delicacies near or on Fessenden's plate, I tried to 
suggest he had nothing to fear from admitting his condition; he would 
not be ostracized as dangerous or contaminated. It was a gruelling, 
futile effort. His mood remained grim. Driving back to Philadelphia 
after dinner, I sped into the first rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike 
and frantically telephoned Bruce Benderson to pour out my grief 
and anxiety. It was one of the worst days of my life. Exultation had 
turned to horror. "Count no man happy," says Greek drama. 

Several years passed before Fessenden's illness, heralded by 
> bouts of pneumonia, was obvious to others. By the fall of 1991, he 
was barely leaving his apartment. Since he had no family left, aside 
from a few elderly Midwesterners he had lost contact with, an ad 
hoc group, half dozen in number, of Fessenden's friends, ex-students, 
and proteges began to confer about him. Gillian Rose and her 
mother, an AIDS volunteer, visited from London to assess and sig- 
nificantly improve the situation. Roger Kimball, who had studied 
with Fessenden at Bennington and toward whom I had always been 
unfairly hostile, proved himself a man of honor and integrity by 



taking charge of Fessenden's legal and financial affairs and bringing 
in expert help to untangle the mess. 

Fessenden's primary malady was a massive overgrowth of fungal 
microbes in his body, crippled by autoimmune deficiency. Little 
showed externally, except for a severe weight loss. His mind began 
to slow, and he became progressively less responsive, indifferent to 
conversation or even music. I regularly telephoned semiweekly but 
could see him rarely. While he was hospitalized in the spring of ] 
1992, Lauren Hutton, who had expressed a desire to meet him, 
accompanied me on a visit. In May, at the conclusion of her semester 
at the University of Sussex, Gillian Rose flew to New York. It was 
as if, she later said to me, Jim had waited for her in order to die. 
She was in the hospital with several others as he began to fail. They 
sat for hours in the corridor until, at 1 A.M., the doctors informed 
them that Jim had died. Gillian immediately called me in Phila- 
delphia with the news. 

The prognosis had been so pessimistic for so long that there was - 
neither surprise nor shock in Fessenden's passing. And there had 
been such a transformation and reduction of him, physically and 
mentally, that the real Fessenden seemed to have vanished. Most 
of us felt relief that the towering intellect he had been would have 
to endure no more humiliations to his frail shell of a body. My worst 
moment had been the first stunning revelation at Astor Place. After 
that, I had made a fatalistic adjustment to reality. It was, I liked 
to think, the steely pragmatism of the soldier. 

Three weeks after Fessenden's death, I was in London for the 
release of the Penguin paperback of Sexual Personae. As I was fielding 
questions from the stage of the Institute of Contemporary Art, with 
Gillian Rose in the audience, I began to describe the painful, lonely 
childhood of sensitive and artistic gay men in macho America. To 
my astonishment, huge tears began to stream down my face. Why 
only in public? Because it was the public realm where Fessenden 
belonged. And because his failure to enter it was partly due to his 
noble refusal to deform the philosophic quest by concern for money, 
status, or power. The audience I addressed was rightfully his. 

The Fessenden who will live on for me is the one who, after 
meeting her in London, was a devoted fan of Ava Gardner, whose 
wildcat temperament seemed to express what he could not assert in 


23 1 

reality. There was a trace of this in his attitude toward me. All of 
my gay male friends treated me with the same blend of amused 

i exasperation and affection; they saw my absurdity at the same time 
as they admired my pugnacious energy. In a way, I was their proxy 
for conventional masculine action. Fessenden enjoyed my scrapes 
and scandals at Bennington, which ranged from a public ass-kicking 
to claims of clairvoyance to fisticuffs at a college dance, the latter 
of which led, after a clash of lawyers, to my departure. In my pro- 
cessing of Sixties politics, disruptive behavior was a form of civil 
disobedience. Matured by disaster, I ended up with more respect 
for institutions and their needs than did Fessenden, who never turned 
his aggression directly on his oppressors. 

Fessenden's campus house at Bennington, Ludlow Studio, was 

, the site-of-origin of my beloved cat, Numa Pompilius, an elegant 
blue-gray stray who had been hanging around for months until I 
adopted her. Numa, who had a distinct and well-deserved superiority 
complex, was my inseparable companion for fifteen years, through- 
out the writing of Sexual Personae. She was the model for my autocratic 
portrait of cats and their mystic symbolism in Egypt. For many 
years, Fessenden owned a shaggier gray-and-white cat, similarly 
from the Bennington countryside, whom he named Camille. 

I also associate Fessenden with Yasmin Aga Khan, who became, 
as our friend Karen Colvard put it, my "hobby." Though we never 
spoke, I became fascinated with Yasmin when, during my first week 
at Bennington in 1972, I caught what appeared to be a beautiful 
Arab boy staring at me across the mail room. The more florid Span- 
ish features of her mother, Rita Hayworth, only came out in Yasmin 
long afterward. Hayworth, looking regal in a muted beige dress, was 
in attendance at Yasmin's senior recital in 1973. Fessenden and I 
were loud and obnoxious at the reception. 

Back in New York, Fessenden whiled away his slow hours at 
the police archives (the improbable job he had until the end) by 
culling piquant items for me from the tabloid gossip columns. His 
envelopes bore the return address "Celebrity Service," which even- 
tually turned into an allegorical personage, "Celebrite," my satirical 
nickname for him. Thanks to the vigilance of Celebrite, we zestfully 

e followed Yasmin (or, as Jim called her, "Yasmaga") through her 

a many adventures, from Margaret Trudeau to various globetrotting 



suitors and husbands. In the late Seventies I had a close encounter 
with Yasmin, an astrakhan-clad woman friend, and a visibly shaky 
Hayworth in, of all places, the glittering Islamic Rooms of the Met- 
ropolitan Museum of Art. I was thunderstruck but for once had the 
sense to leave them alone. 

Throughout our friendship, Fesscnden and I discussed French 
literature and culture, a subject in which I felt at home, since my 
father taught French and had brought back from a year at the 
Sorbonne, when I was a toddler, many books about the Louvre, 
Versailles, and Fontainebleau that had a great impact on me. Fes- 
senden and I admired the Roland Barthes of Mythologies but were 
less enthusiastic about his later development. We liked Gilles De- 
leuze's book on masochism but again felt the sequel was lacking. 
Expert in German, Fessenden enjoyed reading the poststructuralists 
in French, though he never overestimated their importance as did 
American literature professors, for whom he had withering scorn. 

From our first acquaintance, Fessenden kept telling me that 
what I was doing in English was very similar to what Lacan was 
doing in French, but I found Lacan boring, pompous, imprecise, 
and ahistorical. We often argued about Foucault, whom Bruce 
Benderson was also fond of. Many years of bickering and stalemate 
skirmishes passed before Bruce had a key epiphany: he finally ad- 
mitted, under Amazonian pressure, that Foucault's cold, invigorat- 
ing discourse was refreshingly woman-free. I never pressed this point 
with Fessenden, since I knew in my bones it was too true of him 
and his attraction to Foucault. 

In the spring of 1993, at a panel discussion on political cor- 
rectness with Robert Hughes in Washington, D.C. that was filmed 
for British television, Edward Said congratulated me on the stand 
I had taken against New Historicism, with its bourgeois assumptions 
and vulgar inaccuracies. I told him that his intellectual successors 
were not the opportunistic mediocrities who have won tenure at our 
major universities but rather the authentic leftists of my generation 
who rejected the sycophancy of the career system and drifted out 
into the general culture. I passionately declared, "Your heir is 
dead — James Fessenden," whose mentor and dissertation advisor 
had been Arthur Danto, Said's friend and colleague at Columbia. 

When I descend like a demon on Harvard or any other university 



where I lecture, it is Fessenden whom I am avenging with my wrath. 
The most feted names of our generation of humanities professors 
are a callow lot, unlearned and uncultivated. America deserved bet- 
ter. By recovering what we can from the ruins of the Sixties, we can 
help the next generation to learn from our mistakes. This is our 



Pan of 42nd Street, New York City on a rainy night. Traffic noise. CAMILLE 
PAGLIA strolling past the porn theaters and adult bookshops. Voiceover of 
PAGLIA conversing with BRUCE BENDERSON. 

PAGLIA: I was so miserable here, twenty-five years ago. 


PAGLIA: Yes, in graduate school. You remember. 

BENDERSON: Mmmmm . . . vaguely. 

PAGLIA: I still have no sex life. But even then it was very intense. 
My hormones were at their height. 

BENDERSON: I do remember sitting on a rock here waiting for a go- 
go dancer that I knew to come and meet you for the afternoon. 
I was trying to fix you up with a female go-go dancer. 

PAGLIA: Yes, there's an example! There's an example of the misery 
of my life. My sex life has been a disaster. 

[Produced and directed by Monika Treut. Volcano Pictures for Hyena 
Films. Filmed in Philadelphia and New York, November 1991. Released in 




benderson: Yeah. 

(Shot of PAGLIA and BENDERSON sitting on couches in the Helen Hayes 
Suite of the Milford Plaza Hotel, overlooking 8th Avenue. There is a lavish 
spread of food on the table between them. PAGLIA eats constantly as she speaks 
throughout the film.) 

PAGLIA: I mean, every time I try, like, to seduce a woman, I've just 
been . . . hopeless. It's like people can't take me seriously! I 
mean, I think that — I don't know — 

BENDERSON: I think that you unconsciously subvert it, in many 

PAGLIA: What is it then? What do you think it is? 

BENDERSON: You get to the point of consummation, then something 
in you says that it's wrong, and you make sure that it doesn't 

PAGLIA (perplexed): I don't know what it is. 
BENDERSON: It's the Catholic part of you. 
PAGLIA: You think? 

PAGLIA: But, you know, / think it's something else. I think on some 
level that I'm slightly absurd. I'm an absurd, rather comical 

BENDERSON: Well, I agree with that! (They laugh.) 

PAGLIA: No one can really take me seriously. Men can take me 
seriously as a sex object because, you know, I have tits and ass, 
like that. And I do feel the lust between men and women. 

BENDERSON: Oh yeah, we love those tits and ass, babe! 

PAGLIA: Yeah! And so — 

BENDERSON: Shake 'em! 

PAGLIA: Right! 



BKNDKRSON: Go ahead! Yeah! 

PAG LI A (laughing): Right! Shake it! But the thing is that women don't 
take me seriously at all as, you know, as a seducer. I'm just 
ridiculous, and so, I mean, I've never succeeded. 

( Cut to Fifties footage of typical mother in heels and plaid summer dress fussing 
over small daughter with blond ringlets on their stoop. Voiceover begins of 
PAG LI A at the Egyptian gallery of the University Museum of the University 
of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.) 

PAG LI A (with air of disgust): As a child in the early 1950s in America, 
I was being asked to identify with bride dolls, things like this. 
There would be, like, these lacy images of brides. I was expected 
to collect these dolls and so on. It was the period of Debbie 
Reynolds and Doris Day and these sorority queen blondes. Girls 
were supposed to be "nice" and feminine and so on, and instead 
I was identifying with things like this from Egyptian culture. 
(Gestures toward black stone object next to her.) And here we have, 
like, a tombstone, okay? — or in some cases a stele that could just 
be a monument commemorating something that happened dur- 
ing a king's reign. You see, everything about this, to me, was 
anti the 1950s, anti the bourgeois culture of that period, because 
you have these mystic images, cryptic signs. Here we have a 
rapacious falcon or hawk, all right? I've always identified very 
strongly with carnivorous kinds of animals. I'm a kind of dom- 
inating, aggressive woman who just was totally out of sync with 
culture at that time. 

I suppose one could say that it {indicating the object) has a hard 
phallic quality, but the monumentality of Egyptian culture, its 
imperialistic statements, its assertiveness attracted me enormously. 
Plus the idea of cryptic signs and so on. I've always been fas- 
cinated by visual emblems, and I find an exact correlation be- 
tween something like this, which I could not have understood 
as a child, and advertisements of the period. I couldn't read as 
a small child, but I would see images and people doing strange 
things — you know, people holding a box, or holding a box out 
like this (she demonstrates in the 1950s style of Betty Furness), which 
later I could read — TIDE SOAP. So I felt since earliest childhood 



that advertisements were never something that was just popular 
culture and not to be taken seriously. But rather right from the 
beginning I saw that there was a connection between ancient 
pagan culture and the popular culture all around me which, 
let's say, my parents would not take seriously. My parents were 
very against commercialism and advertisements and so on. I 
had a kind of stubborn interest in the cryptic signs of adver- 
tisement. So for me the Egyptian hieroglyphics and advertise- 
ments are in the same line. And it's true. As I went on, I learned 
that the great pharaohs were advertising themselves. That's what 
they were doing — "I am the greatest, I am the most fabulous." 
Which they've done now. Five thousand years later, we're still 
reading their signs. 

( Cut back to PAGLIA and BENDERSON in the New York hotel.) 

PAGLIA: Being a strong woman, okay, a strong sexual woman, is an 
absolute horror — because there are very few things that you can 
do, okay? Really, the number of opportunities for sexual adven- 
turism available to men — it's just appalling — through history! 

BENDERSON: Well, I believe that's true image-wise, but I don't see 
why you have to follow all these social rules. 

PAGLIA: It's undignified! 


PAGLIA: It's sleazy! It just is! 

PAGLIA: When Cher — look — Madonna is also in a similar situation 
apparently. She's at a point where there's no man as strong as 
she is, right? And so she has this problem. And now the rumors 
are, in these new biographies, that she takes the limousine, picks 
up Hispanic, you know, beautiful Latino youths ofT the street, 
has sex with them in a limo, deposits them off! (Laughs.) I mean, 
that seems to me a very good reconciliation — 

BENDERSON: Oh, so you're worried about press coverage. 

PAGLIA: No, no! It's a matter of dignity. She retains her dignity by 
having her limousine, and doing it in the limousine. 


BENDERSON: Darling, dignity is — oh, she maintains her dignity — 

PAGLIA: Yeah, she maintains her dignity. I fail to see how — 

BENDERSON: Well, all we need is a limousine for you. 

PAGLIA: Right. My Pontiac Grand Am isn't quite as, uh, dignified. 

BENDERSON: All right. We'll rent a limousine for you next time. 

PAGLIA (thoughtfully)'. Yeah, yeah. 'Cause, see, I like sex with men. 
I have no problem with that. I mean, I can't stand these lesbians 
who get on talk shows and say, "Oh! Oo! Oo! Men don't do 
anything for me," or "Penises are ugly," or things like that. I 
have no problem with that, okay, at all. It's just that men . . . 
men . . . once you get beyond the level of their sexuality, then 
you get into this political area. You know, they have to compete. 
My crushing intellect becomes a problem to them. 

BENDERSON: I agree. One should never get beyond the level of 
sexuality with men. 

PAGLIA: This is the point. 

BENDERSON: They're totally uninteresting. 

PAGLIA: Exactly. Yes, yes. And then, when I say this, the feminists 
accuse me of treating men as if they were merely bestial or as if 
they were incapable of an emotional life — 

BENDERSON: Oh, you're exciting me! 

PAGLIA: — when in fact my entire book is about the emotional life 
of men. What? 

BENDERSON: You're exciting me. 

PAGLIA: How? About what? 

BENDERSON: Talking about bestiality in men. 

PAGLIA (sighing): I know. At least you've had some bestiality. 

( Cut to vintage Wild West footage of leering cowboy mauling and bussing a 
frantic young woman. Cut to PAGLIA sitting on the floor with MONIKA 
TREUT in the University Museum in Philadelphia.) 



PAGLIA: What I'm opposing is the anti-intellectualism of contem- 
porary feminism. Feminism in its current phase began as a 
movement of eccentric individualists, but it has really rigidified 
into a kind of cult. They're like Moonies. They are really reli- 
gious thinkers who usually have separated in some way from 
their religious background or their cultural background. They 
are people looking for an identity, okay? And such people are 
absolutely — They have not really examined their own assump- 
tions. They're not intellectuals. So as a consequence, when you 
challenge them, they become very emotional, because they have 
no equipment for responding to you. Feminism today in America 
has become simply a series of rote, learned, jargon phrases. So 
if you try to critique their view of rape, let's say, they get very 
angry, and all they can do is parrot back to you something 
they've learned — a statement like (imitates droning computer voice) 
"Rape is a crime of violence but not of sex." They're like robots, 
okay? They've been programmed. Or they'll say something like 
"No always means no." 

Now, both these statements are stupid. They absolutely are 
meaningless, all right? And what I'm doing is I'm going around 
as an intellectual, not just as a feminist but as an intellectual, 
and I am seizing on and attacking each of these jargon phrases 
and exposing them, and I'm doing it by shock tactics. For ex- 
ample, this business about snuff films, all right, which is like, 
oh, snuff films, this huge nightmare vision of contemporary anti- 
porn feminists. And so I'm doing things like saying, "Let snuff 
films be made!" Now I don't mean, of course, a film in which 
a real woman is killed. When we go to a mystery story, we don't 
want to see a real woman, a real person being murdered. When 
we go to Hamlet, we don't want to see, like, ten people being 
killed by the end — the same thing with the Oresteia or anything 
else. But I'm saying that whenever there's a taboo, it's the 
absolute obligation of the artist and intellectual to seize on that 
taboo and to shatter it. In other words (cut to vintage footage of 
plump, middle-aged women being punched and pummeled by early exercise 
equipment), all these tender places in the contemporary ideol- 
ogy — we must push on them, palpate them, make people squeal, 
okay? So I'm doing that also for things like the battered wife 



motif, the battered woman. People are always, like, you know, 
wringing their hands and sobbing over these victims. 

I hate the victim-centered nature of contemporary feminism! 
It's loathsome to me. I believe woman is the dominant sex, okay? 
And that everyone knows this, everyone knows throughout world 
culture that woman dominates man. Everyone but feminists knows 
that! And I think that it's absolutely perverse and neurotic to 
insist that history is nothing but male oppressors and female 
victims. This is ridiculous, all right? They want to make women 
small! (She angrily gestures with thumb and index finger.) Is this fem- 
inism? To make women small, to make them into victims? This 
is absurd! What I see is going on between the sexes, you see, is 
war. I'm an Aries. I have no trouble with war. I'm a combative 
personality. I believe that war and combat are the way that we 
form our identities. All great artists have in some sense warred 
with their religion, with their culture, with their family, with 
others, with the artists who came before them. And so conflict 
and aggression are at the center of my system. ( Cut back to PAGLIA 
and BENDERSON.) I've seen a film of a female cat mating, breed- 
ing, and I identify with it so powerfully. 

BENDERSON: Oh, yeah, I've seen that. 

PAGLIA: Because the cat is an isolated animal, like me, a solitary 
animal, and you can see that she's driven by these hormones to 
mate, to breed — 


PAGLIA: — but she's angry at having to submit. 

PAGLIA: And you have this war going on between this male cat and 
this female cat, and (imitates growling and scratching cat) she's, like, 
clawing him, okay? And he's waiting, waiting. Eleven times he 
may penetrate her with this kind of penis that has a hook on it 
that injures her. 

BENDERSON: Yes! It's very hard and bony. 


PAGLIA: Yes. And I identify with that so powerfully. And I say, yes, 
that's me. I am like this completely carnivorous, solitary, self- 
ruling animal, like a cat. 

benderson: Right. 

paglia: You know? And I want to mate, and nature pushes me very 
powerfully to mate, but then I wanna kill. See, I hate this sort 
of, to me, saccharine or cloying intimacy — I don't mean to 
characterize you! 

benderson: Oh do, please! 

PAGLIA (laughing): No, no, I'm not categorizing you! But I'm in flight 
from this thing in the American bourgeoisie. Which is this thing 
of being nice, making nice, and nurturing, coddling and so on. I 
just can't do that. That's my problem with relationships, that 
I can't do it. 

BENDERSON: I don't totally believe that, because you're very nur- 
turing to me sometimes, over our long relationship. 

PAGLIA: That's to my friends. That's to my immediate friends. 

BENDERSON: So you can't give some of this abbondanza around, you 
know, sort of spread it around outside of your circle of friends? 

PAGLIA: I have trouble getting it together with sex. When I get that 
with someone, the sex seems to leave. That's my problem. 

BENDERSON: Really? How interesting. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. As a woman, I just can't get nurturance and sex 
together. I cannot. 

BENDERSON: To other women you can, though. 

PAGLIA: Well, yeah. Susie Bright criticized me, you know, for saying 
that I feel we need less intimacy, not more, with sex. I think 
that intimacy kills sex. 

( Cut to technicolor footage of formally dressed Fifties couple toasting each other 
with clinking coffee mugs. A lush soundtrack swells. Cut back to PAGLIA and 



TREUT sitting on the museum floor. PAGLIA makes wild Italian gestures 
throughout this scene.) 

PAGLIA: Now feminists today, as I see it, are the heirs of Rousseau. 
They believe (imitates prissy woman with singsong voice) we're born 
naturally good and whatever is nasty about us, we got that from 
an unjust social system. So if there's rape, why, no one would 
ever rape naturally. It must be coming from pornography! Yes, 
pornography! Men are taught to rape by pornography! (With 
disgust) This is so stupid. Rape has occurred everywhere in his- 
tory, okay? Rape is simply a brutal form of the will to power, 
okay? Men are taught not to rape. The idea that feminism dis- 
covered rape, that feminists alone are the ones who have decried 
the violence of rape . . . absurd! Feminism — it is mired in the 
shallow present, it is so ignorant about culture! Men throughout 
history have condemned rape. Ethical men have always done 
that, for heaven's sakes. (Angrily) I mean, the fall of the tyrants 
in Rome was because of the rape of Lucretia by Tarquin, right? 

So we teach people by ethical rules of society — whether it's 
through morality in religion or by just the rational code of 
ethics — not to murder, not to steal, not to rape. Now, feminism 
is focusing on rape at the college level, at the freshman year. 
(Imitates breathlessly posturing Joan of Arc feminist) "We can stop 
rape by passing grievance committee rules!" Is this stupid? Is 
this ignorant? I mean, first of all, my generation of girls, we 
were raised in the Fifties, where you had to be a virgin, okay? 
We arrived in college in 1964, and we were kept in all-girl dorms, 
locked at eleven o'clock at night. We had to sign in. My gen- 
eration's the one that broke through that in America and said, 
"No more rules!" We said to the colleges, "Get out of our sex 
lives! Let us have the freedom to risk danger, to risk rape. Get 
out, okay?" Now today, feminism is so stupid, it wants authority 
figures back into sex! It wants authority figures (imitates unctuously 
paternalistic bureaucrat) — "Okay, what happened on this date? 
Oh, he put his hand on your left breast? Oh, that was wrong, 
wasn't it? Punish him!" (Slaps her own hand) 

This is ridiculous. Women must take full responsibility for their 
sexuality. I'm saying to women not to stay home, all right, but 



rather, accept the idea of sex. Every time you go on a date with 
a man, the idea of sex should be in the air, okay? If it's not in 
the air, if you're not understanding that, why are you going on 
a date? These feminists seem to think that dating was something 
created on Mount Sinai, that God handed down the Ten Com- 
mandments (imitates divine table-inscribing): "And then, you shall 
date!'" This is absurd. Unchaperoned dating is something very 
recent in history. It's confined to the industrialized democracies. 
Even in Germany, I understand, this idea of dating, as under- 
stood here, this great thing you do — you get up (imitates primping 
and flouncing) and get all ready to go out on a date — this is 
something very new. It's absurd! These feminists who think that 
they can totally reform the way men relate to women by focusing 
in on college dating, they are so parochial, so provincial! Now, 
my view of sexuality — (jump cut back to PAGLIA and BENDER- 
SON,) — Because I do believe in telling all, and I don't believe in 
playing games, and that's one of my problems. I think that sex 
is a game — and I have a great trouble flirting and playing the 

BENDERSON: Exactly. 

PAGLIA: Because I'm too simple. I'm an Aries. I'm absolutely 
simple — and simplistic, even. 

BENDERSON: So you think it's because you're not holding anything 
back that you eventually turn the woman off? 

PAGLIA: I feel this is the intimacy problem again. You keep on saying 
we should have intimacy, and I feel that my error has been maybe 
to, like, put too much intimacy into the sex connection. You 
know, maybe I should be treating it more cerebrally, more ab- 

BENDERSON: That could be. 

PAGLIA: See, I don't exploit people. I'm terrible at that. And so, I 
think that in some sense sexual contact is — there's a self- 
withholding going on in it that I'm not capable of. And you're 
right, I think I just show too much. 



BENDERSON: Right. A good hunter is self-possessed. Is that what 
you mean? 

PAGLIA: Hmmmm. I think there's a predatory aspect to sexual con- 
quest that I completely lack. (Ruefully eating) I don't know, I mean, 
I'm in my forties now, and people still think I'm very youthful. 
You know, I get along great with children. There's something 
about me that's presexual. It's like I never got over my what 
Freud calls polymorphous — you know, the pansexuality — po- 
lymorphous perversity. But in certain ways, I don't think I've 
ever progressed into the dating stage yet! Dating is still something 
very difficult to me. 

BENDERSON: Well, do you feel sexual towards children? 

PAGLIA (pondering it): No, but I feel absolutely at one with children. 
Children between the ages of three and eight. And I feel that's 
where I sort of have stopped. And so I feel totally sexual in a 
kind of whole-body way, but I find it difficult coupling. Coupling 
is very difficult to me. I mean, I think that most powerful and 
talented women — I mean, really powerful women like me — have 
had some sort of difficulty with sexual adjustment in ways that 
very powerful men don't necessarily have. Some powerful men 
have had these problems, but I think that every very, very 
talented woman in some way has difficulty in how to relate 
sexually to other people. And that's been my problem. 

( Cut to vintage footage of crone shooting pistols at lightbulbs and other targets 
held by women or small children. Cut to PAGLIA standing beneath large, pink- 
granite pharaonic sphinx at the University Museum. She addresses the camera.) 

PAGLIA (sternly): I have never identified with Christianity. The only 
elements in it that I identified with are those in Roman Ca- 
tholicism that / have identified in my writing as pagan, the 
pagan elements in it. Whether it's the sexual personae of the 
martyred saints . . . Saint Sebastian, with the arrows sticking 
out of his body — he's a kind of parallel to the beautiful boys of 
Greek art and so on and so forth. There was just something in 
the humbleness of Christianity, Saint Joseph and Mary and the 
baby and so on, that I absolutely rejected. I just felt like such an 


alien, not only a sexual alien but a social alien, in my own time. 
So dreaming about ancient Egypt and studying it was my escape, 
you see, from what I regarded as (disdainfully) the humiliating 
simplicities and humbleness of Christianity that we were being 
taught. Turn the other cheek and all that. Well, I don't believe 
that for a minute. I don't think any Italian really does. We 
believe in war! 

(Jump cut to PAGLIA and BENDERSON,) 

PAGLIA (laughing): Well, I'm a bisexual lesbian who's also monastic, 
celibate, pervert, deviant, voyeur. 

BENDERSON: Are you masochistic? 

PAGLIA (pondering it): No, I don't think I'm masochistic. I don't think 
at all. Because I'm very self-preserving. I don't like suffering. I 
don't think I'm masochistic. 

BENDERSON: Right! Well, masochists are very self-preserving. That's 
the mechanism of self-preservation in their masochism. 

PAGLIA (still pondering): I really don't think I'm masochistic. I don't. 

BENDERSON: They're masochistic in order not to feel something 

PAGLIA: I don't see it, except in, uh, the sex act. (Smiling sheepishly) 
I enjoy being on the bottom. 

BENDERSON: Oh, tell me more about that! 

PAGLIA (shrugging): No, it's true. I mean, I'm a butch bottom. Susie 
[Bright] was right. 

BENDERSON: Would you like to be tied up? 

PAGLIA (emphatically): No, no. I wouldn't like, I don't think, the idea 
of powerlessness — 

BENDERSON: Would you like to have your nipples tortured? 

PAGLIA (indignantly): No! 

( Cut to vintage footage of voluptuous, raven-haired woman throwing knives at 
a tiny, beatifically smiling girl, as a crowd of children watches. Cut to PAGLIA 



and TREUT sitting on the museum floor. More agitated Italian gesticulation 

PAGLIA: Because I'm criticizing liberalism, people automatically call 
me a conservative. This is madness! The idea that somehow one 
cannot critique liberalism from the left, from the left wing of 
liberalism. I mean, how can people be so stupid? How can they 
be so naive? I am on record — I'm constantly on record in all 
my interviews as well as in the book — as being pro-prostitution, 
pro-pornography, pro-abortion, pro-legalization of drugs, pro- 
homosexuality, pro-drag queens. Now, how is that nco-conser- 
vativc? The people who are saying this are so idiotic! We are 
dealing here with such simplistic minds. I mean, there's no point 
in even listening to such people! 

See, the value of my work is not just what I am saying but 
rather that I am breaking up all these bunkered positions. Many 
people are condemning themselves out of their own mouths. I'm 
sort of like this race boat that goes zooming by, okay? And it's 
as interesting in the wake of where I've been as what I'm doing 
myself. That is, people everywhere, in university departments 
or in downtown New York or in San Francisco, are getting 
apparently into huge arguments about my work, and it's being 
very, very useful. For example, you have people who've been 
claiming to be cutting edge and avant-garde, people who are 
interested in (contemptuously) Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault. For 
the first time, in their inability to deal with my ideas, inability 
to even read my book accurately, they are being revealed in 
their university departments as, in fact, completely stereotyped 
thinkers. The impoverishment of their minds, the smallness of 
their imaginations is slowly being revealed to others in their 
immediate circles. 

So, I'm a very powerful weapon, okay, being used not by the 
right against the left but rather by people who are liberal thinkers 
who have been enslaved by these poseurs, these racketeers, peo- 
ple who are pretending to be liberal but who are in fact just 
naive politically. I have been congratulated by women — people 
rush up to me at the end of my lectures — women of my age, 
women who are younger, who are so sick of being bullied by 



these sanctimonious puritans who call themselves feminists. I'm 
a feminist, but I am liberating current feminism from these false 
feminists who have a death grip on it right now, who are anti- 
porn and so on. I'm bringing, like Madonna, a sense of beauty 
and pleasure and sensuality back into feminism. Because, you 
know, feminism's main problem for the last twenty years has 
been that it is incapable of appreciating art, okay? There is no 
aesthetics in feminism. All there is, is a social agenda. Art is 
made a servant to a prefab social agenda. So what I'm doing is 
allowing feminism to take aesthetics into it, and also psychology. 

(Cut back to PAGLIA and BENDERSON.J 

PAGLIA: If people could see the inside of my brain, I would be in 
prison! (BENDERSON laughs uproariously.) In other words, I get 
away with murder! I get away with- murder, okay? Because I 
think that men are constantly being arrested and taken away 
in paddy wagons for things that I'm doing in my mind, you 
know? That's why I can understand the way men's minds work, 
because the way I look at women is absolutely lascivious. It's 
what feminists call "the male gaze." But obviously it's not "the 
male gaze" because, honey, I am using it! I have been doing it 
for many a decade. 

BENDERSON: Oh, well, I don't know. Maybe you have a testosterone 

PAGLIA (gravely): Yes, I think I do have a hormonal imbalance. I 
surely do. But I'm hairless! You'd think I'd have a beard or a 
mustache, but I don't! 

BENDERSON: Well, perhaps you have an excess of both hormones. 
Too much testosterone and too much estrogen. 

PAGLIA: Yes, yes, this may be the case. I certainly feel at the mercy 
of my hormones. It's, like, every week, it's something different 
with me. Some weeks of the month I feel very female, others 
very male. I feel I have a sex change every month. (BENDERSON 
laughs loudly.) It's true! I feel it. Sometimes I desire a man, some- 
times a woman, you know. It just goes back and forth. I mean, 
it never is the same with me. Never for a minute. 


BEXDERSOX: Well, maybe you can chart it, and then you could be 
at the right place at the right time. 

PAGLIA (laughing): Oh, I'm enough for myself. I'm in love with 
myself. It's the romance of the century! 

( Cut to PAGLIA on 42nd Street scrutinizing movie posters of blonde porn stars. 
Her finger trails languidly across their glossy breasts and buttocks. Cut to her 
drifting into a neon-lit porn emporium and then to a video booth, where she 
gleefully watches a pantingly explicit hardcore film. Cut to PAGLIA and TREUT 
sitting on the museum floor.) 

PAGLIA: Feminism does not realize — contemporary feminism — the 
degree to which it has silenced dissenting women and men. It 
does not realize. And so it's completely off in an ivory tower, 
and it's shocked when it goes into the outside world and says, 
"What, what? You don't agree with us? Then you must be a 
backlash to us! Yes, you must be having a backlash to us because 
of our success." When, in fact, feminism has to open its eyes and 
realize that it's made not a dent in anything outside a small 
group of white, upper-middle-class men. These are the only men 
who have changed, okay? Now in the law office, a man can't 
say to you, "Hey, babe! You got great tits!" That's the only 
change that has been made. It's made not a dent in the outside 
world. Construction workers don't listen, working-class men 
don't listen. The entire world is unchanged by feminism. 

So my feminism is calling for strong men, strong women. And 
also we must take all of the aspects of sexuality into ourselves. 
We can no longer say, "This is good sex." Anything that is not, 
that is dark or violent or abusive or hot, or anything like 
that . . . oh, that's "bad" sex! I mean, this is unbelievable, 
what's going on. Contemporary feminism has simply relapsed 
into the puritanism of seventeenth-century New England here. 
It's appalling, okay? I'm simply bringing a world sophistication 
to sexuality, and it's obvious by the enormous surge of popularity 
of my book that people are listening because they are sick and 
tired of being sermonized to by these women! 

These women are absolutely (grimacing) . . . it's pathetic! 
Young women are being trained to look at fashion magazines 



and see nothing but . . . you know, like you'll see a beautiful 
woman's face, and it'll be "decapitation," "mutilation," "am- 
putation." It's loathsome what's going on, okay? So I don't care 
what these women say. I mean, these women are losers. They're 
gonna lose to me. My victory over them will come decade by 
decade by decade, okay? Their punishment for maligning me now 
is to see the triumph of my work. Ha! (Cut to PAGLIA looking 
directly into camera and jabbing her finger at the audience.) Let them 
suck raw eggs and eat my dust! 



LAUREN HUTTON and CAMILLE PAGLIA, in a black Gaultier corset dress, 
seat themselves at opposite ends of a Renaissance banquet table crowded with 
food, fruit, and wine goblets. Next to each of their chairs, a large TV screen 
shows a live image of the other woman. Amid the forest of studio lights are 
racks of votive church candles. Cameramen circle and roam throughout the film. 
HUTTON and PAGLIA talk at top speed, constantly interrupting each other 
in overlapping dialogue. 

LAUREN HUTTON: Okay. One of the things that I knew very, very 
clearly from the first time I was trying to get into boys' gangs 
as a young preadolescent — because it seemed that boys and 
woods were much more interesting with their houses that said, 
"No Girls" than girls playing with dolls, so I always wanted to 
be out with the boys because it looked like more fun to me. But 
I always knew that they were very alien creatures, and quite 
dangerous. You could feel it, you know? It was like being around 
with like a really bad alligator snapper, which is something that 
could take you off a hand, down where I grew up. 

[Excerpted. Directed by Luca Babini. Allied Species, Inc. and Trouble- 
maker's Film, Inc. Filmed in New York on February 1, 1992.] 


GAMILLE PAGLIA (laughing): Right! 

HUTTON: And because early feminists were so frightened that they 
weren't as smart as men — because we were taught that — it 
seems like now they've taught young women to think that in 
fact men are not different and they're not dangerous. I believe 
that they're outright savages! (PAGLIA laughs.) That men are 
savages and that our business is to civilize them. 

PAGLIA: I agree with that. 

HUTTON: And in a good way, not an emasculating way, which sucks. 
But in a decent way. So you said that, um, what'd you say? You 
said that we must have a common-sense attitude toward rape. 
You have twelve tequilas at a fraternity party and go up to a 
guy's room, and you're surprised when he assaults you. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. That's right. 

HUTTON: And girls right and left, over and over and over you see 
them, going up to somebody's room in the dead of the night 
and not understanding that men are not the same as us in sex. 
And that's what's exciting. Male lust. 

PAGLIA: Right. That's what's exciting. 

HUTTON: That's what I fantasize about. 

PAGLIA: That's what I think is wrong in the feminist rhetoric right 
now, because I think we don't want to curtail or to castrate — 

HUTTON: Yikes! No! 

PAGLIA: — male sexuality. 

HUTTON: That's what's interesting. 

PAGLIA: Yes, that's what's interesting. I think it's for the good of 
the species. You want to keep men hot, okay? All right? 

HUTTON (laughing): Keep 'em hot, absolutely! 

PAGLIA: So my motto for men is going to be this, "Get it up!" That's 
my thing. "Get it up!" And now my motto for women: "Deal 
with it." 



OFFSCREEN MALE VOICE: Say that again? (HUTTON laughs.) 

PAGLIA: I'm saying for men, get it up and keep it up. Get it up! 
And I'm saying for women, deal with it. Deal with it! Not cut it 
off, not like, you know (imitates panicky spinster), "No, no, no, 
no!" Not lecturing to men, okay? It's up to women to realize 
that there's this dangerous force — 

HUTTON: I think I like this. 

PAGLIA: — in male sexuality, in the force of nature, and again, it's 
for the good of the species. 

( Cut to new segment.) 

HUTTON: I think rape is up. You say no, right? 
PAGLIA: No, absolutely not. I mean, I feel that the frequency — 
HUTTON: Have you seen statistics on this, or are you just — 
PAGLIA: The frequency of reporting is definitely up, okay? 
HUTTON: Yes. But why wouldn't rape itself be up, since girls go — 
PAGLIA: It isn't up. 

HUTTON: I mean, in the Fifties, boy, you did not go to a guy's room 
who was, like, much bigger than you. And never with a guy you 
had just met, and you had ten tequilas, and in fact unless you 
were looking to be — you know — 

PAGLIA: In point of fact, I knew many examples. I mean, I knew 
examples in high school and in college of girls who had been 
raped who wouldn't dream of reporting it. As a matter of fact, 
as the years have gone on, I have known fewer and fewer women 
who are raped, all right? I think it's probably going down because 
women are more together. I think that women, in general, are 
wiser. There are a lot of stupid women who are out there who 
become these date-rape heroines. They make me so sick. They 
get on TV, they're on the cover of People magazine, all right? 

These stupid girls on the cover of People magazine, whenever 
it was. The girl, you know, at Colgate University. There's an 
advertisement: oh, yes, "Come and spend the weekend at the 



fraternity house, we guarantee your safety." Now, what kind of 
dope do you have to be to spend a weekend at a fraternity house 
and think your safety's guaranteed? And she gets drunk. Oh, 
her grandmother had died recently. So she gets drunk. 

HUTTON: Young male lust. Hmm. 

PAGLIA: And at something like three in the morning — after she drank 
too much — three men come into the room, and she's surprised? 
And now she's a heroine on the cover of People? These are stupid 
girls, stupid women! 

HUTTON: Well, maybe in fact they're victims of this sort of early 
feminist idea that men and women are the same — 

PAGLIA: That's absolutely it. 

HUTTON: — that we have the same brain, and the girl thinks, "Well, 
I'm not gonna jump a guy and throw him on his back and 
absolutely out-and-out rape him." Although there were, there 
were three women in Kansas City that raped that guy. Did you 
ever see that? 

PAGLIA: No, I didn't. 

HUTTON: It was fabulous! They raped him and threatened him with 
a hammer. He reported them. (PAGLIA laughs.) And the cops 
made a lot of fun of him in Kansas City, I think. 

PAGLIA: Now see, I look at movies. There's so many movies that 
show the delirium of gang rape and how men can goad each 
other into a gang rape and abuse a woman and not realize that 
she's a person, okay? How many movies do you have to see like 
Death Wish? Or Where the Boys Are. I mean, there are so many 
of these movies. How dumb can you be? See, what women don't 
understand is that it's possible for men to have sex with an inert 
object, okay? 

HUTTON: A watermelon, perhaps. Or anything, yeah. 

PAGLIA: Well, even a watermelon! But I think even a drunk woman, 
a woman who's comatose. 



HUTTON: Yeah. Inert objects, yeah. 

PAGLIA: Women can't imagine that, okay? That actually men could 
enjoy having sex, group sex, with a drunk and, you know, 
passed-out girl. I can understand it. From my male brain, what- 
ever it is. I think I have the brain of a rapist. Actually, that's 
the truth, okay? 

HUTTON: Can you speak into the mike? (Laughs) You have the brain 
of a male rapist? 

PAGLIA: I can understand rape, okay? As a woman who's been very 
frustrated by other women's attitudes toward me, I can absolutely 
understand it. I totally understand it. 

HUTTON: And what is it? Let's get it down here. Is it an idea of 
naked dominance? 

PAGLIA: No. What it is is that women have something you want. You 
wanna get in there. They seem to be like citadels, all right? 

HUTTON: Citadels. 

PAGLIA: And they close the door against you, and you have this rage, 
and you want to get in there, okay, and also you have this sense 
of honor which women don't understand. A sense of pride. And 
what I have had happen to me, okay, where girls and women 
have said to me, "You think I'm leading you on?" And when 
in fact, her behavior had been, like for forty-eight hours, out- 
rageously leading on! Outrageously provocative! I think half the 
time women don't know what they're doing, okay? 

HUTTON: Or we're taught to relate almost only sexually quite often, 
you know, with daddies first and then — 

PAGLIA: But I believe there's a kind of autoerotic quality to women's 
sexuality and that men are aroused by it. That it is the vibrations 
or the signals being sent out, okay? And that women do not 
understand the signals they're sending out. They do not under- 
stand the inflammatory nature of those signals. And that I, as 
a lesbian or as a bisexual woman, absolutely understand it, okay? 
I understand the lust that men have for women, the rage that 



men have toward women. And the way it can turn into rape. 
And the only reason I think I have never raped anyone is because 
I'm a woman. I can't possibly, you know? I can't take any sat- 
isfaction, physical satisfaction, in an inert object. I could not 
do it. 

HUTTON: Well, it's probably more interesting in fantasy than the 
actual thing, too. 

PAGLIA: No, I don't believe that's true. 

HUTTON: You've never found that out? 

paglia: No. 

HUTTON: You've never experienced that? Where something that was 
erotic in a fantasy, when it was actually carried through was 
sort of . . . well, squeamy? 

PAGLIA: In studying the images of rape in literature and art, and 
also the fantasies of rape, I feel that — 

HUTTON: It's sort of heroic in a way. 

PAGLIA: — I feel I understand it. And that the feminist discourse on 
rape is totally wrong and it's putting women in danger, okay? 
They do not — 

HUTTON: Yes, I agree with that, absolutely! 

PAGLIA: They do not understand, okay? They do not understand 
what lust is, from the male point of view. 

HUTTON: Or the glory of male lust. 

PAGLIA: The glory of male lust, yeah. 

HUTTON: Or, in fact, how interested we are in it. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. I want to fan the flames of lust — 

HUTTON (thoughtfully): Fan the flames . . . 

PAGLIA: Fan the flames of lust, that's my aim. 

HUTTON: Good. Deal with it. 



PAGL1A: Deal with it. (HUTTON laughs.) All right. Get it up and deal 
with it. Right. 

HUTTON: Okay. Male lust and the rock and roll strut! 

PAGLIA: Right. 

HUTTON: OK, so why are there no female — 

PAGLIA: Well, I think that rock and roll is basically male lust, right 
at its peak, okay? Because it's a teenage male activity. And I 
as a great rock fan — and I've been listening to it for thirty-five 
years — I have to remark on the fact that there are no great 
women lead guitarists in the world, okay? Anyone who knows 
about rock has to admit this. I mean, it's not that women don't 
have access. That's bullshit. They now have access to guitars, they 
now have all-women bands. They have hi years, right? Not one 
great woman [hard rock] solo has been done — 


PAGLIA: — in the twenty-five years of rock. Because I believe it's all 
about lust. It's all about aggression, male aggression, all right? 
That kick-ass, you know, knock-the-door down, in-your-face 

HUTTON: Oooh! 

PAGLIA: Yeah. It's male. You see? And I've got that. That's what 
I'm doing in my book. That's the sound in my book. (Smacks 
her fist into her hand.) That high-impact sound. That is the sound 
of the guitars, all right? Now, I'm doing it in words — 

HUTTON: You've never met a guy who's tougher than you? 

PAGLIA (long pause): Uh . . . 

HUTTON: And smart at the same time? 

PAGLIA: Oh, no, no, not smart. But there are men who are. When 
I'm in the presence of real male dominance, I can feel it. I can 
feel it, and I enjoy it. It's rare, but it's there, okay? But who 
could get along with me, you know? You see, my grandmother 
said — 


HUTTON: What do you mean, "no"? 

PAGLIA: My grandmother said to me in Italian — 

HUTTON: "No," what? 

PAGLIA: My grandmother said, "If you were married, your husband 
would either beat you or kill you!" Okay? 

HUTTON: Oooh. So granny scared you. That's scary. 

PAGLIA: No, she didn't scare me. 

HUTTON: So then you wouldn't mind being beaten? 

PAGLIA: No, no! She was saying that I'm such an obnoxious per- 
sonality that it would be almost impossible to have like a cou- 
ple — 

HUTTON: I don't think you're obnoxious. You're pretty ridiculous 
on your — Never mind! (Laughs.) 

PAGLIA: But to live with it on a day-to-day level — it's nice to visit, 
but to live with it? I mean, you know, this is a vacation. This 
is recreation. Can you imagine day after day after day? 

HUTTON: Oh, I bet you'd calm down. 

PAGLIA: Oh, please! 

( Cut to new segment.) 

I PAGLIA: See, my theory is that in the last hundred years we've seen 
a collapse of the great extended families, the tribal extended 
family — the tribal family would be what you saw in Africa — 
into this nuclear family. 

HUTTON: Very dangerous. Very dangerous. 

PAGLIA: And maybe that the nuclear unit perhaps is an artificial 
and oppressive construction — 

I HUTTON: Absolutely. 

PAGLIA: — and is like a pressure cooker of incestuous feeling. 



MUTTON: Yeah. Yeah. Good thinking! So you're saying that it's 
absolutely out-and-out breeding and there's no outlet for it. 
Because you don't have aunts and uncles and grandparents and 
neighbors sitting around saying, "Oh, Dad's completely nuts 
today, watch out!" or "Mother's riding the rag and she's doing 
this and that." Kids think that the parents are in fact the entire 

PAGLIA: Right. Right. That's exactly it, and they have no wise elders 
to help them, okay? And you have this awful — It's like a prison! 
It's leading to anorexia. 

HUTTON: Yeah, absolutely. 

PAGLIA: Anorexia to me is one of these disturbances when the daugh- 
ter tries to stop her sexual maturation. It's because she's re- 
sponding, I think, to the incestuous currents going on in the 
nuclear family. 

HUTTON: Yeah. It serves a point. 

PAGLIA: I think that homosexuality is also coming from this. That 
is, if you have no other form of relatedness, these two parents 
alone cannot possibly help you to understand the world. You 
need the entire tribe to help you understand the world. You need 
rites de passage. And the schools have failed, the Church has failed, 
and so on. The kids' culture is TV, it's popular culture. 

HUTTON: We're a society in deep chaos, no? Deep shit! 

PAGLIA: We're in a period of sexual crisis, absolutely. I don't think 
that feminism's helping right now. 


PAGLIA: I think feminism's obstructing and forcing — 

HUTTON: No. It's making bigger enemies of us than we were. 

PAGLIA: It's making bigger enemies of the sexes. 

HUTTON: And it's making young girls unsafe because they don't 
understand that they're dealing with a very potent savage and 
spectacular animal. Men. 



PAGLIA: It's also alienating women from their own bodies — 
hutton: Yes. Yeah. 

PAGLIA: — because they don't understand that in their bodies they 
have something which men want, okay. So they're encouraged 
to interpret all male lust as oppressive and victimizing and 
negative, instead of seeing that it is up to them to husband this 
flame. They have a flame, and it's enormously powerful, all 
right? For example, Francesca Stanfill, who interviewed me for 
the New York cover story a year ago — she's a novelist, she has 
two children, she went to Yale and so forth — she said nothing in 
her Yale education prepared her for being a mother. 

HUTTON: Right. Yeah. 

PAGLIA: That's very interesting. Nothing helps a woman to under- 
stand what she is as a natural being. 

HUTTON: That's it. 

PAGLIA: Nothing in our culture will help. 
( Cut to new segment.) 

PAGLIA: I think the problem with our culture is that we seem to be 
living in an urban technological society in which we are in, you 
know, air-conditioned offices with sealed-in windows, working 
with machines all day long. We're forced to be very limited 
Apollonian personalities in the day. Therefore it's all the more 
important that, at night, we go back to recover the Dionysian 
other self which has been repressed. 

HUTTON: Amen. 

PAGLIA: For that, we need more lust, not less lust! Feminism is totally 
out of sync with what is needed now, OK? We want more por- 
nography, better pornography. Pornography everywhere! Not in 
the office, necessarily — 

HUTTON: Have you tried writing some pornography? 

PAGLIA: I did! I mean, my book. 


HUTTON: Women write pretty good pornography. 

paglia: My book is the most X-rated academic book probably ever 

HUTTON: Mmm. Right. 

paglia: Ha! A hundred nuns with dildos? That was Harold Bloom's 
favorite line in that book. 

HUTTON (laughing): Oooh — I missed that part. 

PAGLIA: Yeah, well, that's the Marquis de Sade chapter. The orgy 
in the convent. 

HUTTON: I don't know if that's so incredibly attractive. A hundred 
nuns and — Oh! I'd be running. 

PAGLIA: The Marquis de Sade wrote that scene. 

HUTTON: Why do you like him so much? Well, never mind. I don't 
even want to talk about why you like him. Tell me about this. 
You said that male culture created western technological tra- 
dition that gave you — 

PAGLIA: Western technological tradition created the modern, capi- 
talistic life that has allowed the emergence of the feminist. Our 
feminist culture at the present moment is completely dependent 
on capitalism. My grandmother was still scrubbing clothes on the 
back porch on a washboard! My ability to write this book came 
from this society which men have created. No other culture has 
produced feminism but ours. The idea that western culture is 
evil — ! 

HUTTON: Men. Great men. So how do we tamp down this sort of 
war that's going on here? First, women need to be sort of secure. 
You said that on some level men understand that women are — 

PAGLIA: Dominant! Woman is the dominant sex. 

HUTTON: Yeah. But yet we believed our grandmothers' stories that, 
in fact, men are dominant. So we bought our own conspiracy. 

PAGLIA: Men are dominant in society, okay? And it is the mission 
of feminism to seek the full political and legal equality of women. 



We must win the entrance of women into the social realm. What 
I'm saying in my work is that we are much bigger than merely 
social selves. That there's a social sphere of life, but there is also 
a sexual or emotional sphere that overlaps the social sphere but 
is not identical to it. So I'm saying that, in the sexual and 
emotional sphere, woman is dominant and men know it on some 
deep level. They remember having emerged from this huge, 
matriarchal, goddesslike, shadowy figure from which they strug- 
gled for identity. Yes. They were inside the woman's body for 
nine months, and they struggled for identity out away from 
her — in the early years of life in which the woman is completely, 
you know, overmastering them. 

HUTTON: So how do we do that? How do we in fact deal with it? 

PAGLIA: Well, I'm saying we must accept sexual difference and 
understand what is going on. What is going on is sex war, and all 
the things that are going on — the turbulence between the 
sexes — may be a permanent condition. We must seek for under- 

HUTTON: Well, to some degree it would keep things interesting, 
right? So you need that sort of flame. 

PAGLIA: To keep it interesting. But we shouldn't be blaming men. 

* * * 

PAGLIA: Nature has a plot, a plan for women to reproduce, all right? 
And then if you don't want to reproduce . . . like I have abso- 
lutely no interest in having children. And I have been at total 
war with my body — 

HUTTON: Amen. 

PAGLIA: — for thirty years. 

HUTTON: Do they sneak up on you? Dreams? Do you suddenly 
dream that some witch is throwing a baby and you've got it 
caught in your arms and you've got to like take care of it? And 
the witch is gone — 


PAGL1A: Is this a dream that you have? 

HUTTON: You bet. (PAGLIA laughs.) I have all versions of that. Or 
I had them. Fortunately the eggs are gone. 

PAG LI A (laughing): You have baby-throwing dreams? 

HUTTON: Yes, absolutely, at different times. You haven't hit them 
yet? You should have hit them. 

PAGLIA: No, I don't have baby dreams. 

HUTTON: What? How do you have them? 

PAGLIA: I have nature dreams. I have big nature dreams. 

HUTTON: You never actually ... It doesn't actually spring out? The 
idea — 

PAGLIA: Uh uh. 

HUTTON: — of having a baby doesn't come undisguised into your 

PAGLIA: That would be a terrible nightmare to me. I think that's a 
waking nightmare to me. I — I — It has never happened in my 

HUTTON: It's a nightmare for me, too. 
PAGLIA: Yeah, yeah. 

HUTTON: I mean, I actually raised some babies, so I know what a 
nightmare it is! 

PAGLIA: You raised babies? 

HUTTON: My mother's, yeah. It's a very hard and big deal. 

PAGLIA: Oh, all right. No, it would be a horror to me. But I have 
big dreams. Big nature dreams. Like about fire, flood, you know, 
that sort of thing. Storms. That's my cup of tea. 

HUTTON: Mmm hmm. 

PAGLIA: But you have dreams where babies are flung at you, and 
they — 



HUTTON: I did. I don't have them anymore. I don't have them 
anymore because I'm almost out of eggs. 

PAGLIA: How many babies are being flung at you at any given time? 

HUTTON: Only one at a whack. (Laughs) Thank God. 

PAGLIA: Oh, one at a whack? All right. (They laugh.) 

( Cut to new segment.) 

HUTTON: — but I don't think they [feminists] like men. Everybody 
used to say to me, was I a feminist? I mean, I had decided at 
thirteen that I would never, ever be supported by a man, because 
I'd seen, you know, my mother and many other women in deep 
trouble because of that. And I never have been. So in that sense, 
that's feminist. And I certainly believe that everybody should 
have the same money for the job. But it seemed that they didn't 
like men. And as angry as I was and became at men, I certainly 
felt they were the job. I mean, they are it. That's what we've 
got. It's men. They're the most interesting game. 

PAGLIA: Anyway, what women conceal from men, you know, is the 
degree of men's dependency on women. I think that part of the 
maternal love that a woman has for a — 

HUTTON: Say it again. I'm sorry. Women conceal from men — 

PAGLIA: Women conceal from men the degree of men's dependency 
on them. I began to see it's a game being played. 

HUTTON: Ah! So it's like pushing the young — the son — out. 

PAGLIA: It's an actual game being played, okay, by women. Because 
I began to see that the heterosexual love that a woman has for 
her husband is in fact maternal. And that's what I lacked. That's 
what I lacked. I lacked maternal feeling. 

HUTTON: It's not all maternal. 

PAGLIA: No, but I had lust for men, but I don't have the maternal 
feeling for men. I mean, I don't want to stroke men — 

HUTTON: They'll stroke you back, you know. 



PAGLIA: No, you know what I mean — psychologically. I began to 
see that men had these, like, spasms of ego, okay? And then it's 
followed by relapses. And that women are constantly in this kind 
of medical relationship and nursing relationship to men. I began 
to see that the most successful heterosexual women that I knew 
were in fact nursing. 

HUTTON (laughing): Nurses. 

PAGLIA: It's nursing. And it's a version of the maternal function, all 
right? And I began to see there's a kind of soothing, stroking 
thing that the successful heterosexual woman has — and that 
men are not necessarily looking for tits and ass, okay, in the 
long run. They're looking for nursing. 

HUTTON (pondering): Looking for nursing. 


HUTTON: You don't think that men ever get past that stage? 
PAGLIA: No. They sink further and further. 

HUTTON: I've decided that I'll go to my grave alone, if I can't find 
a man that will accept me not as a mother or daughter and that 
I don't have to be a mother or a daughter to. I mean, once in 
a while we all relapse into those roles, because that's who we 
are and that's a nice thing to do every once in a while. But there 
must be a way of — There must be a place where it's an equal 

paglia: Alas! 

HUTTON: Or is that where you're talking? Alas? 

PAGLIA: Alas! I think that in late life it's even more obvious that the 
woman takes over the relationship. I see it all the time in the 
shopping malls — ( Offstage laughter from the crew.) 

HUTTON (big laugh, as she slaps the table with both hands): Oh, stop! 
We're not living our lives in shopping malls! 

PAGLIA: The woman is dragging the guy around, and he wants a 
hot dog: "You can't have that!" 



HUTTON: Those are people who probably never, ever became alive. 
I call them "the undead." They're like people who just go from, 
you know, their parents having sucked all the life out of them 
when they were children to them pumping out children, so they 
can suck the life out of them. That's the only life there ever is. 
In fact, they're people who never had ideals, gave up what ideals 
they had and have been old from birth. You know, going through 
school, more than half your class was old, right? They were old 
kids. I'm younger than most of the twenty-year-olds I know. 

PAGLIA: This is true. Right. 

HUTTON: That's why I'm not particularly worried about age. 

PAGLIA: Hormonally, suddenly women's estrogen — women's female 
hormones begin to lapse, and therefore their male hormone 
becomes more powerful. At midlife, men's male hormones begin 
to lapse, all right? So the woman becomes more powerful in later 
life. That is the men's fate. Men have a brief moment of power, 
okay, when their hormone is at its height in their late teenage 
years and in their twenties. That's it, okay? That's it! 

HUTTON (laughing): Camille! Get back! Get down! 

PAGLIA: I'm saying that men go from control by their mothers to 
control by their wives, and that is the horror of men's life. And 
that feminism refuses to see this. 

HUTTON: So this is why you say that young or any gay male is a 
heroic symbol and free. 

PAGLIA: Yes! Gay men are heroes to me! 

HUTTON: Because they stand against this bullshit. 

PAGLIA: Because they stand against control by women. 

HUTTON: Yes, yes. 

PAGLIA: And they alone are preserving the masculine impulse today. 
Feminism is doing everything it can to destroy masculinity. 

HUTTON: So you don't believe in love. 



PAGLIA: Oh, I do believe in love. 

HUTTON: I mean, maybe none of us sort of think it's possible, but it 
must be. Don't you think? Heterosexual love? Must be. 

PAGLIA: I believe in love. Love's an illusion, I think. I think there's 
sexual passion under the surface of it, and then there's a nesting 
instinct. I think that women really do nest. 

HUTTON: Yes, but we're different. 

PAGLIA: And that men shrink. 

HUTTON: We can learn from them and they can learn from us — 
PAGLIA: The husbands shrink. 

HUTTON: — so why shouldn't, as we go on in life and learn more 
and more, why shouldn't we in fact be able to be alongside 
someone who's showing us a different view of what it is? 

PAGLIA: Well, you have a wish of what would be good about life. I 
am just trying to, as an objective observer, record — 

HUTTON: Well, I don't go in shopping malls hardly ever! I stay out. 
I go in them, I go nuts! 

PAGLIA (laughing): The shopping mall is the center of American cul- 
ture! — as Martha Stewart knows. 

( Cut to new segment.) 

HUTTON: The state of the sex wars, okay? The sex war is heating 
up. You said you think that in fact sex is getting less interesting. 
And do you think this is because women — because we decided 
that we have the same brains? So people don't allow for this 
sort of different — 

PAGLIA: Well, I think that feminism's gotten very shrewish, all right? 

HUTTON: Shrewish. 

PAGLIA: And there's a lot of lecturing and sermonizing about sex 
today. All these rules. And that you should behave in this way 
and that way and there's only one kind of pornography or erotica 



and you should not be pornographic, et cetera, et cetera, and 
don't do things that are demeaning to woman. And I feel there's 
been a terrible backsliding from the Sixties, when there really 
was a kind of liberated sexual imagination. There were porno 
books that were, like, very high-class porn books done often 
under a nom de plume by well-known writers. There were sex 
magazines. There was a kind of feeling of experimentation, fun, 
and so on, vivacity, that's completely gone. 

HUTTON: Yeah. 

PAGLIA: And I think we have an overpoliticized sexual realm right 
now, where even the alternative press — The Village Voice, Mother 
Jones — is taking the most reactionary political positions about 
what's tolerable in sex. 

HUTTON: It seems to me it goes back to the Sixties when we thought 
this whole new world was going to come when we were young. 
And we thought we were taking over. We were going to come 
up with love and honor and political ... to bring America back 
to America being what it was supposed to be. 

PAGLIA: Paradise now. 

HUTTON: Paradise now. 

PAGLIA: Right. 

HUTTON: I remember I was on my way to Berkeley. Because bas- 
ically I became politicized when I saw — for me, the Sixties 
started, the Sixties opened for me when I picked up a newspaper 
and on the front page — this was in Tampa, Florida; usually we 
had kittens on the front page — suddenly, on the front page was 
a girl who was, you know, approximately my age. She had long 
black hair, still left over from beatnik fashion, long black stock- 
ings, dirndl skirt, I think. She was being dragged by her hair 
down a bunch of steps. She had long black hair, she was on her 
back, and it was a long shot of a very large, fat cop trudging 
down the thing with all his equipment and dragging this girl, 
my age, down the steps on her back. And I thought, "In America? 
Are they out of their mind?" And it was the beginning of the 



Free Speech Movement. And she was being dragged down be- 
cause a bunch of kids had gotten together on the steps and said 
they were gonna stand there and talk until, you know, they got 
freedom of speech and freedom of — what's it called? 

PAGLIA: Assembly. 

HUTTON: Yes. Freedom of assembly. So I immediately packed up 
and got ready to go to Berkeley and then got, uh, snafued and 
waylaid in New Orleans. Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't make it. 
But in fact the D.A. who ordered that — that pulling kids, girls, 
eighteen, by their hair down the steps — was Edwin Meese. 

PAGLIA: Whoa! 

HUTTON: He was from Oakland, and he was the youngest D.A. in 
history. He ordered that. He then became the brains for — brain 
for — Reagan. I mean, he was the Reagan brains, since that was 
a totally empty skull there. And all our heroes, in fact, were 
silenced or shot. And kids now — I mean, we had a lot of heroes. 
When we were kids, when we were in our early twenties, in our 
late teens, we had a lot of heroes. We had both Kennedys, who 
in fact were heroes at the time. We had Malcolm X, we had 
Martin Luther King, we had Margaret Mead. She came out 
and said, "I tried some grass. I liked it. It's pretty nice." (Laughs) 
We had lots of them. 

PAGLIA: Well, she didn't get shot! (Laughs.) 

HUTTON (laughing): No, she didn't get shot, but we haven't heard 
from her lately! It seems to be a very sad time with no heroes 
and no one in our generation speaking up, because in fact — 

PAGLIA: We have to acknowledge, though, that what happened was 
that our generation was guilty of excesses and of impatience and 
lack of practicality in presenting a program of practical — 

HUTTON: Yeah. They didn't know what they were doing or where 
they were going. 

PAGLIA: They didn't know — right. It's sort of like, "Let's levitate 
the Pentagon." 



HUTTON: Yeah. And they were throwing bombs like assholes without 
even knowing for what. 

PAGLIA: But the conservative reaction of the Seventies and Eighties 
has got to be understood. Our generation made many funda- 
mental errors of strategy and judgment that led to that reaction, 
okay? The idea that all of our problems today are because of 
the conservatives — no, 


PAGLIA: Our problems are because we rebelled but we had no program 
to put in the place of that particular structure. And so, once there 
were the days of rage and riots in the street, People's Park, okay, 
which was just a — 

HUTTON: I remember People's Park. 

PAGLIA: — a kind of childish, you know, running around playing 

HUTTON: Well, they were kids. So how could you have a plan when 
you're twenty years old and you haven't lived or seen anything 
or done anything? 

PAGLIA: That wonderful film Berkeley in the Sixties shows documentary 
film footage — shows the way in the beginning you had these 
often Jewish, very passionate social activists involved in civil 
rights at Berkeley. And the way it changed and altered, okay, 
this film shows. People talk about it — like one of the people in 
it, the professors in it say the minute it got out that Berkeley 
was the place to be, suddenly you began to get every lunatic in 
the country going there — 

hutton: It was coopted. 

PAGLIA: — and then you begin having the psychedelic drugs, okay? 
It suddenly became a psychedelic scene. And the minute it got 
into drugs, people lost the ability to see social reality for what 
it is, all right? And, you see, those early Jewish activists were 
very practical — they were grounded in the study of economics, 
their parents were refugees of the Holocaust, and so on. 


HUTTON: They were also the same people that asked for the lifting 
of all codes and rules and regulations on colleges, right? 

PAGLIA: Mmm hmm. 

HUTTON: So that now you can graduate from Princeton and get 
absolutely no classical history, no math. I mean, you know, 

PAGLIA: Right. 

( Cut to new segment.) 

HUTTON: I think probably the reason men arc so bad to each other 
is that we are in fact not protective of something in there that 
we tolerate between women. 

PAGLIA: I don't think any of us are fully civilized beings. You see, I 
think that there's a barbaric undertow to all of human life and 
it's out there. It's like the passion of sex and aggression is always 
ready to break into open sight. 

HUTTON: Right. 

PAGLIA: And I think that's what crime is. Crime is basically a kind 
of regression. You know, in terms of, like, serial murderers — 
we've talked a little bit about this. I mean, I think that there 
are different parts of the brain and one is the reptilian brain, 
the part that's the most — 

HUTTON: Back. 

PAGLIA: — primitive. 

HUTTON: Back brain. 

PAGLIA: And that these are the impulses, amoral impulses toward 
sex and aggression. 

HUTTON: So is that original sin? Our back brain? 

PAGLIA: Yeah. 

HUTTON: Our reptilian brain? 


2 "7 1 

PAGLIA: Yes. Yes, I think it is. It's like a serpent. It's the serpent 
within us. And it's there in all of us. I don't think we're born 
good. See, feminism believes, with Rousseau, that we're born 
good and that bad social signals turn us bad. 


PAGLIA: Like pornography makes men rape. This is ridiculous! 
HUTTON: Yeah. 

PAGLIA: What I'm saying's the opposite. I'm saying, like the Catholic 
thing, we're born bad. We're born with an impulse toward — 

HUTTON: We're born animals. 

PAGLIA: We're born animals. 

HUTTON: And hopefully we grow up. 

PAGLIA: And rules civilize us. Society civilizes us. Society is women's 
protection against rape. It trains men not to rape, all right? And 
I mean, all throughout history, rape has been condemned. The 
idea that feminism discovered rape is absurd, okay? Ethical men 
throughout history have been on the record about this — that 
rape is a form of brutishness that has never been tolerated in 
any civilized community. And so the date-rape thing — this is 
out of control. I have to explain to foreign reporters the date- 
rape thing. They never can understand it. They say, "What is 
this?" When I enunciate common-sense principles of female 
behavior, I'm abused. I'm called "anti-women" and "pro- 
rape." I mean, it's insane what's going on now! Again, it's the 
feminist attempt to gain control of sex by politicizing it and 
hammering it to death with dead rhetoric. Yes. It's jargon! 

HUTTON: You're talking about European people coming and asking 
you this, right? They've had time to grow an aristocracy. We 
haven't had that. We changed every single generation. 

PAGLIA: Well, they have a more sophisticated view of sex. What's 
permitted on Italian or on British TV in terms of sex is extraor- 
dinarily more adult and mature than what we are permitted 


here. And everyone knows that we are allowed more violence 
than the British or — 

HUTTON: Ooh! Tell me about the breasts of — who? You said I get 
to pick a saint's name since I became a Catholic. 

paglia: Oh, Saint Agatha. 

HUTTON: Saint Agatha. 

PAGLIA: Saint Agatha had her breasts cut oflfand served on a platter, 
apparently, or at least exhibited on a platter. And so when it 
comes time for your confirmation, since you're going to be an 
honorary Catholic, you must pick a saint's name. 

HUTTON: There's an Italian bonbon, you said, that's shaped like 
Saint Agatha's breast? 

PAGLIA: Yes, apparently an Italian bonbon of white chocolate, I 
think it is — 

HUTTON: White chocolate. 

PAGLIA: — yes, that's shaped with a little nipple — 
HUTTON: A cherry stem nipple? 

PAGLIA: — with a little nipple in white chocolate, I think. I'm not 
sure. I have never had one, so I can't really give any firsthand 
account. ("HUTTON laughs.) But there's Saint Agatha. That's a 
very colorful saint to be, you know. 

HUTTON (smacks her forehead and laughs): These Eye-talians. I tell ya! 

PAGLIA: Yeah. Well, we have an instinct for sex and violence. That's 
what I'm saying in my book, that in Italian culture you see a 
residue of the ancient pagan past. And that's why I have such 
a bizarre mentality. Because of being Italian. 

* * * 

HUTTON: I think you can't have just male, you can't havejust hunter 
intelligence, and you can't havejust caretaking intelligence. Like 
you say, we'd still be in grass huts! 



paglia: Mmm hmm. 

HUTTON: But if you'd just have men, they're going to be burning 
down the grass huts. Which is what they're doing now. 

PAGLIA: Yeah, unfortunately, this has been the evidence through 
history, okay? But my theory is that one day people from outer 
space will appear ("HUTTON laughs) and that suddenly the entire 
human race will see that it has more alike, more in common 
than with these, these jelly-like creatures with, like, one eye in 
the middle of their forehead. This is what / believe will unify 
the world eventually. But it may take a long time. 

HUTTON (smiling, looks at watch and up at sky): What time is it? Getting 

PAGLIA: Yeah, yeah. But actually, you know, again as someone who 
has studied history (Director Luca Babini is seen here at PAGLIA^ 
side, as he aims his camera at HUTTONJ, I have to tell you I don't 
have this gloomy view of the contemporary world that many 
others do right now. I just do not because I have seen what the 
past has been like, where you have banditry and war and star- 
vation and so on. 

HUTTON: Yeah, no. God knows a lot of things are a lot better. 

PAGLIA: The condition of the world is certainly not at all — I don't 
see any decline. People who are always wringing their hands 
about the way we're going and how we're living in the most 
corrupt . . . they have no knowledge at all of the corruption of 
the past and the venality of the past. For example, to appreciate 
America you have to go, let's say, to Italy. Like my father was 
thinking of retiring to Italy because we're Italian, and the dif- 
ficulties over there that he had merely even making a phone call 
(HUTTON laughs) so enraged him that he realized what an Amer- 
ican he is and how we don't even realize the conveniences and 
pleasures of America, the efficiency of America, because we take 
them for granted. 


HUTTON: I had a great time. Thanks. 

PAGLIA: Goodbye. Goodbye, George! Goodbye, Gracie! (They laugh.) 

(As credits roll, cut to HUTTON applying lipstick brush to a squirming, 
protesting PAGLIA in the makeup session preceding the filming. Gabriele 
Vigorelli had just done PAGLIA 'j hair.) 

HUTTON: Calm down! Nice, full sensuous Italian lips! 

PAGLIA: You're giving me bigger lips than I have! 

HUTTON: These are nice Italian lips. 

PAGLIA: Well, these lips are too big — 

HUTTON: Calm down. Think of Rita Hayworth. 

PAGLIA: Rita Hayworth had her — 

HUTTON: Sshhh! (They laugh.) 

2 & 3. Stills from Sex War. Lauren Hutton (above) and Camille 
Paglia (below). Hutton in mirror (right) and on monitor (left), 
being filmed by Luca Babini (rear center). 
Photos: Allied Species, Inc. 

4 & 5. The filming of Glennda and Camille Do Downtown. Glennda 
Orgasm and Paglia crossing Sixth Avenue (top) and in front of 
Stonewall Inn (bottom). Photos: Tracey Tippet. 


A sunny spring Saturday in New York's Washington Square Park. As rock 
music blares on the soundtrack, GLENNDA ORGASM, CAMILLE PAGLIA, 
and her two leather-clad bodyguards, the CENTURIONS, stroll through the 
crowds toward the fountain. GLENNDA is wearing dramatic Cleopatra makeup, 
a blonde Sixties "flip" wig, and a gold ankle-length gown glittering with 
sequins and ivory beads. PAGLIA is in blue jeans, black jacket, and a white 
Keith Richards T-shirt trimmed with a dagger-pierced heart. Since GLENNDA 
■ 6' 1" and PAGLIA 5' 3", the mismatched pair look like Mutt and Jeff. 

GLENNDA ORGASM: Here is this week's very special guest: my fa- 
vorite feminist scholar, Camille Paglia. Hi, Camille! 

CAMILLE PAGLIA: Hi, Glennda. It's wonderful to be here. 

GLENNDA: Isn't it nice? It's gorgeous weather. 

PAGLIA (surveying the lounging New York University students): It's fabu- 
lous. Very Sixties! Glennda, I want to introduce you to my 

[Produced and directed by Glenn Belverio (Glennda Orgasm). Filmed in 
New York City on May 15, 1993. Aired June 14 and 17 on Manhattan 
Cable Public Access Television. A shortened version premiered at the 1994 
Sundance Film Festival.] 




Centurions, my bodyguards. (Two brawny African- American men 
wearing dark glasses and grave expressions loom into camera view.) 
Rcnnard Snowdcn and Brian Roach. These are my men. 

glennda: Hi! 

RENNARD SNOWDKN (formally shaking GLENNDA \S hand): How are 

PAGLIA: They accompany me everywhere. They're very famous. 
Their image has gone around the world. 

(The stern, silent, unsmiling CENTURIONS flank PAGLIA, as GLENNDA 
admires them.) 

GLENNDA: Wow! They're beautiful! 
PAGLIA: Aren't they gorgeous? 
GLENNDA: They're great! 
PAGLIA: They're my Egyptian warriors. 
glennda: I feel safe. I feel much safer. 

PAGLIA: / feel like a girl when I'm around them! Thank you, thank 
you, guys! (The CENTURIONS return to their outlying positions.) 

GLENNDA: Thank you! Okay. So Camille, what's the concept? What 
are we doing today? What is this video? 

PAGLIA: Well, we're here to trash, essentially, the feminist estab- 
lishment, all right? And all anti-sex porn-phobes! 

GLENNDA: Oh, it's getting so moralistic these days. I feel like I can't 
make a move without someone beating down on me saying, 
"You're being too sexy!" 

PAGLIA: Oh, absolutely. No, it's absolutely horrible. Catharine 
MacKinnon's everywhere, (looking around) We could see her at 
any moment, popping out of a bush with Barbara Walters! 
Really! This is an Anti-Andrea Dworkin Day, all right? 

GLENNDA: Yes, a Dworkin-Free Zone! (They laugh.) What's the name 
of the video, Camille? 



paglia: Well, we're calling this Glennda and Camille Do Downtown, 
and we're imitating the famous Debbie Does Dallas. 

( Cut to footage from the 1979 porn classic, Debbie Does Dallas. Cheerleaders 
bob, and football players scamper. Debbie peels off her shirt and soaps her 
breasts in the locker room.) 

GLENNDA: Oh, wow, that's a great movie. 

PAGLIA: Yes, it is. And, and of course, I love all early porn. I love 
that period when women's bodies were lush and sensual and 

glennda: Right. 

PAGLIA: So, um, lewder. 

GLENNDA: It's a form of art, and people don't like to say that it's a 
form of art. 

PAGLIA: It is art. Pornography and art are identical for me, abso- 

GLENNDA: Absolutely. I agree. 

PAGLIA: I think Michelangelo is a pornographer. 

GLENNDA: Well, I think a day without pornography is like a day 
without sunshine! 

PAGLIA (laughing): I agree with you completely. The Pieta is to me 
a piece of pornography. 

GLENNDA: Absolutely. And Michelangelo was a pornographer. 

PAGLIA: He was. And the Pope is a collector of porn. 

GLENNDA: Wow! He's the biggest porn collector in the world! 

PAGLIA: He is. The Vatican Museum — 

GLENNDA: The Vatican! 

PAGLIA: — is filled with nudes, you know? 

GLENNDA: Wow! Wait 'til Gay Pleasures finds out about this! 



PAGLIA: I know. So, here we are in Washington Square Park, and 
we just feel like it's the middle of — 

GLENNDA: — the Sixties. 

PAGLIA: The Sixties. Yeah, it's like your handbag. Show your hand- 
bag, Glennda! 

(The camera zooms in for a close-up of GLENNDA 's large, square faux- 
leopardskin purse. PAGLIA fondles it appreciatively.) 

GLENNDA: This is a very Sixties handbag. 

PAGLIA: Is this fabulous? 

GLENNDA: That was your generation, your generation of the Sixties. 
PAGLIA: I am of the Sixties, that's right. 

( Cut to news footage of stoned Sixties hippies moving and grooving at an outdoor 
rock festival.) 

PAGLIA: And so many of us, you know, blew our brains out on acid. 
Not me! 

GLENNDA: Oh. That's good. 

PAGLIA: Because I'm addicted to my own hormones, Glennda. 

GLENNDA: But how do you feel? You know, a lot of Sixties fashion 
has come back into style, like Sixties and Seventies into the 
Nineties. But do you think it's brought in the same kind of values, 
or is it a more sanitized version of the Sixties and Seventies? 

PAGLIA: Well, when anything returns, it's always ironic. It loses 
some oomph. I mean that's a lesson of history. But essentially, 
I do feel the kids of the Nineties have moved backward and are 
looking to Sixties idealism again. It's such a change, and a 
blessed one, from the kind of Rolex, you know, BMW, Seventies- 
Eighties materialism. (GLENNDA groans.) I hated that period — 
Michael Milken, the Wall Street crap. I hated that. 

GLENNDA: White middle-class mechanisms. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. So the Nineties are — it's the period of the drag queen. 
Drag queens are the dominant sexual personae of this decade, 
in my view. 



GLENNDA: Well, you know, Camille, there's been a lot of talk about 
1993 being the "Year of the Drag Queen." How do you feel 
about that? 

PAGLIA: Oh, I think it's so true. And I have modeled so much of 
my personality on drag queens. I mean, I learned how to be a 
woman from drag queens. There's no doubt about it. 


PAGLIA: I was not happy with my sex role. I was, you know, butch 
for decades, and now I know how to put on a dress, Glennda. 

GLENNDA: Absolutely. Well, you know, a lot of feminists accuse drag 
queens of mocking women. Have you ever heard them say that? 

PAGLIA: Oh, God! Oh, they're so naive. Please! Drag queens have 
preserved the power of woman! I call my feminism "Drag Queen 

GLENNDA: That's great. 

paglia: See, because I feel that drag queens have a better, more 
historical sense of sex roles than do feminists, all right? They 
understand the power, the glamour, the glory of woman! I mean, 
in putting on a dress, putting on high heels, you are fabulous! It 
goes back to Babylon. It goes back to ancient Egypt. I'm so tired 
of this kind of yuppie feminism, white bourgeois feminism with 
the attache case. Oh! The kind of Susan Faludi, Naomi Wolf 
boring crap! That's so white bread — you know, white bread and 
mayonnaise, that's all it is. 

GLENNDA: Well, you know, what I like about drag is we have these 
extremes. You can be ultra-butch, and then you can be ultra- 
feminine. And I think sometimes feminism tries to push everyone 
into the middle and say, "No, we have to whitewash everyone," 
and everyone has to be, like, kind of unsexy and androgynous. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. 

GLENNDA: Androgyny can be sexy. But I think they want a kind of 
unsexy state of androgyny. 



PAGLIA: This is exactly right. Right now in the Ivy League, okay, 
there's a lot of talk that the prominence of drag queens right 
now is due to the new interest in androgyny, the dissolution of 
sex roles. Now I think that's wrong. The drag queen flourishes 
in periods when sex roles are actually very firm. Like the Fifties, 

glennda: Right. 

PAGLIA: That was a great period of drag. Drag went underground. 
It fell apart in the Seventies and Eighties. So I'm saying that 
the dominance of the drag queen now in the Nineties is due to 
us looking again for what is it to be a man, what is it to be a 
woman. And we're looking historically again. We no longer like 
the kind of Mao suit, unisex look. That's tired! That's stale! 
Androgyny is dead! Drag queen— ism is in! 

( Cut to GLENNDA and PAGLIA now seated on a park bench near the triumphal 

PAGLIA: You're, like, part Italian, right? You're half Italian? 
GLENNDA: Yes. I'm half Italian. 

PAGLIA: Yes. Do you feel this? Do you feel the Italian energy? 

GLENNDA: Yes, yes! It keeps me going. Motivation. Absolutely. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. I mean, you see these little widows — they're like 
eighty-year-olds — Italian widows running around. You know, 
they outlive their husbands by thirty years. This is me. I wasn't 
married, but I'm like a widow. You know, it's the same thing. 
I'm like a widow or a nun. 

GLENNDA: Yeah. I know Italian women — they would come to work, 
they'd be in their eighties, and they'd still come to work. Every 
single day to work. Work, work, work. 

PAGLIA: Right, right. 

GLENNDA: They're so determined. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. And don't get in their way! They'll put — (makes 
twisting gesture of putting the screws in) They're mean. They're 


mean. They'll push you out of the way. (laughing) They're vi- 
cious! They're vicious! An eighty-year-old Italian widow? Don't 
get in her way! 

GLENNDA (laughing): Well, I knew this Italian woman that worked 
for my father, and she used to say, "The Mafia is beautiful." 
(PAGLIA cackles,) And she used to whistle The Godfather theme 
all the time. 

PAGLIA: Oh really? Well, my grandmother used to say, you know, 
Mussolini was beautiful — "bello"\ 

GLENNDA: She carried a knife, too. 

paglia: Oh, I do, too! 

GLENNDA: Yeah? That's what I thought. 

PAGLIA: Yeah! You wanna see my knife? 

GLENNDA: Oh, wow! We're gonna see Camille's knife! 

PAGLIA (rummaging through her handbag): This is my knife, all right? 
This was actually given to me by — Oh, no, that's my mascara! 

GLENNDA (laughing): Now, that could be a deadly weapon. 

PAGLIA: I'm so split! I'm so split — my personality. Oh, here it is. 
(She unsheathes the slim silver blade and displays it to GLENNDA and 
the camera.) 

GLENNDA: Wow. Wow! It's very compact. It looks like a nail file. 
It's beautiful. Wow. 

PAGLIA: My friend, Bruce Benderson, the writer, gave this to me. 
It's a Ninja knife from 42nd Street. He knows 42nd Street in- 
timately. It's probably illegal, but I'm not sure. I don't care. 

GLENNDA: Oh, who cares? 

PAGLIA: Yeah, who cares? Right. 

GLENNDA: We're breaking the rules today. 


PAGLIA: Whenever I sign books, I have my men next to me, you 
see, and I have my Ninja knife, and I fear nothing. 

( Cut to Fifties footage of a curvaceous Miss America. Cut to GLENNDA and 
CAMILLE, standing in front of a lifesize cutout of Betty Grable in an 8th 
Street shop window between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.) 

GLENNDA: You know, there was a documentary about Miss America 
pageants, and Miss Americas in the 1950s were voluptuous, 
with big hips. And now they're — I like the Miss Americas better 
in the Fifties and Sixties. 

PAGLIA: I agree. 

GLENNDA: They're, like, white bread, and they all look the same. 
They all have the same hairdos. (PAGLIA laughs.) It's just not 
the same. I mean, the feminists complain about, "Oh, it's ex- 
ploiting women." I just think it's banal, what's happened. 

PAGLIA: Right. Well, you know, this idea that somehow beauty 
contests are a way to make women into meat or to turn them 
into just objects — that is absurd. The idea of the beauty contest 
goes all the way back to ancient times. The judgment of Paris, 
you know — where Paris had to judge the three goddesses, and 
he awarded the apple, the golden apple, to Aphrodite, and she 
gave him, in turn, the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen 
of Troy. Which started the Trojan War. You know, it caused 

GLENNDA: Absolutely. 

PAGLIA (ruefully): It caused problems. But — 
GLENNDA: It caused a lot of problems. 

PAGLIA: Yeah, a lot of problems. But the point is the idea of judging 
beauty seems to me, you know, just part of our tradition, and 
I just refuse to take it that seriously. I mean, I'm not someone 
who is a compulsive shopper or dresser, but I love watching the 
beauty shows. I always did. Right from the start, I've never 
regarded them as sexist. 

GLENNDA: They're amusing. You know, I saw this great documen- 
tary where this feminist was protesting, and she dressed in a 



meat dress, a dress made out of lamb chops and hamburger 

PAGLIA (whooping): That's great! 

GLENNDA: And even though she was, like, an extreme feminist, I 
just thought her style was amazing. She just seemed so uncon- 
scious of the style that she had — the meat dress. And she was 
wearing high heels, and she was yelling, "Judge meat, not 
women!" But she was still fabulous. I loved her. 

(Cut to 1985 news footage of spike-heeled protester in mini-dress at Miss 
California pageant shouting, cc Judge meat, not women! 39 Cut to GLENNDA 
and PAGLIA crossing street at 8th and Sixth Avenue. They bear down on a 
curbside table staffed by two dour women aggressively wielding blow-ups of 
pornographic photos. It is a protest by WAP [Women Against Pornography] , 
who have forced these photos on pedestrians around New York for years.) 

GLENNDA: Wow! Oh, lookit, Camille, look! 

PAGLIA (imitating Roseanne Arnold through much of this scene): Oh, my 

GLENNDA: It's Hustler! 

PAGLIA (archly): It is. Let's look. What are — who are these people? 
GLENNDA (with feigned innocence): What is going on over here? Look! 
PAGLIA: What are they doing? 

GLENNDA: Wow! (Reads one of their signs) "PORN IS WOMAN HATE." 
PAGLIA (heavily Roseanne): Oh, my Gawd! 

GLENNDA (posing Socratic questions): Camille, what is going on here? 

PAGLIA (with feigned wonder): They're anti-porn feminists! 

(The scene degenerates from this point on. The protesters yank away the posters 
or flip the backs to the cameras. One woman strikes at the camera with her 
poster. The film crew angrily protests. There is pushing and shoving and a 
general melee. The CENTURIONS move in, as a large crowd quickly gathers. 
The husky torsos and arms of RENNARD SNOWDEN and BRIAN ROACH are 
glimpsed protecting the camera.) 


GLENNDA: Wait, wait, I wanna sec the picture! 
PAG LI A (archly): Oh, my Gawd! 

GLENNDA AND CAMILLE (simultaneously reading the sign and chanting 
together like Oscar Wilde's Gwendolen and Cecily): "FEMINISTS 

OFFSCREEN PROTESTER: We don't want our picture taken. 

GLENNDA: Look at this, (reading) "PORN DEGRADES WOMEN." 


GLENNDA (feigning wonder): This is unbelievable! Can we see the 
pic — wow! Look, Camille, look at the pictures! 

PAGLIA: What? Oh, my Gawd! Look! 

GLENNDA (lustily): It's hot! Wow! Bondage! 

PAGLIA: That is hot! 

GLENNDA: Where can we get some of that? 

PAGLIA (with delight): Bondage! Oh, my! (glancing at the protesters) They 
seem very phobic, don't they? 

GLENNDA: I don't think they like us, Camille. 

PAGLIA (dreamily): I don't think they do. 

GLENNDA: Wait, what's going on? 

PAGLIA: Isn't that amazing? They don't want their pictures taken. 

GLENNDA (addressing the protesters): What does the petition do? What 
is it for? 

OFFSCREEN PROTESTER: No, I don't want it for you. 
PAGLIA (Roseanne again): Oh, my Gawd! 
GLENNDA: It's not for us? Why? We're Americans. 
PAGLIA: They don't want us. They don't — 
OFFSCREEN PROTESTER: Identify yourselves. 


PAGLIA: My name is Camille Paglia — 
PAGLIA: — and this is Glennda Orgasm! 
GLENNDA (laughing): I'm Glennda Orgasm. 
PAGLIA: And we love pornography! 
GLENNDA: We love it. 
PAGLIA: And we want sex! We are tired — 
glennda: More sex! 

PAGLIA: — of the anti-porn feminists and their bad attitudes! 

GLENNDA: A day without pornography is like a day without sun- 

PAGLIA: Oh, my Gawd — yes! I can't believe you're on the street just 
when we're filming our thing. Oh, my God, look at them. 

(The protesters whisper to each other while shielding their posters from the 

ONE PROTESTER TO THE OTHER (aghast, gesturing toward PAGLIA as 
if she were Satan): I'm glad to know who it is! 

GLENNDA: Do you have any gay pornography? 

PAGLIA: Look at them. 

GLENNDA: Do you have any lesbian pornography? 

PAGLIA (eagerly): Do you have lesbian pornography here? Do you 
have any s & m pornography? 

GLENNDA: They have — look — that's — 

( Crowd mills about, as one protester again tries to interfere with the camera 
by striking at it with her poster.) 

MALE VOICE IN CROWD: Keep your hands off my First Amendment! 
PAGLIA (to film crew and bodyguards): Watch out! Watch the cable! 


OFFSCREEN PROTESTER: We don't want our pictures taken! 

GLENNDA (to the protester): What? Oh, come on! It's a photo op! It's 

PAGLIA (to the protester): Well, they're not. They're photographing us! 
GLENNDA: They don't want the publicity! 

PAGLIA: They don't want the publicity. They're afraid! You're afraid! 
You're afraid! You people are afraid. You've got no guts! 

GLENNDA: Come on! Publicity! 

VOICE IN CROWD: It's Camille! 

PROTESTER (to film crew as she snatches away her flailing poster): Get your 
hands off of my property! 

PAGLIA (starting to get angry): You don't own the street corner, honey! 

GLENNDA (laughing): Yeah! Come on, this is a — 

PAGLIA: Yeah, you guys are real tough, aren't you, when no one is 
contradicting your ideas. You people are hypocrites! You people 
are phobes! You people are puritans, okay? 

GLENNDA (sternly to protesters): What do you think you're doing? 

PAGLIA (building up to high pitch of Italian Jury): And now we are here, 
okay? Your opponents are here! Instead of your usual bullying, 
okay, you have some people who can oppose you, okay, who know 
something about art! Who aren't so fucking phobic as you are, 

GLENNDA: Pornography is art. Why don't they know that? 

PAGLIA: You people are like mental defectives as far as I'm con- 
cerned, okay? You finally have someone who can deal with you, 
and you're shrinking! You people are wimps! 

GLENNDA: Oh, they're having a conference. 

PAGLIA: Wimps! 

GLENNDA: They're having a conference. 


PAGLIA: Granola lesbian wimps! Okay, alright? (Shouting) An\\-art, 
antwtfx, anti-every thing! You people can go to hell! OK? Camille 
Paglia is here — in your face! 

PROTESTER (to PAGLIA): Why did you lose your job teaching at 
Bennington College? 

GLENNDA (groaning with exasperation): Ohh! 

PAGLIA (infuriated at this reactionary appeal to authority, leaps two steps 
toward the flinching protester.): Because I am, like, an in-your-face 
feminist, okay? And I got in a fistflght! Okay? (Applause, whistles, 
and shouts of approval from the crowd, whom PAGLIA now turns to and 
bellows at.) The feminism of the twenty-first century will be pro- 
art! Pro-sex! Pro-porn! 

GLENNDA: More porn! More porn! 

PAGLIA: Yes, more porn! 

GLENNDA: More porn! 

PAGLIA: We're tired of you guys! The backlash is against you people! 
You guys have caused the backlash — 

GLENNDA: It's true! 

PAGLIA: — wither bad attitude! Get real! Get real! 

YOUNG FEMALE ONLOOKER (stepping out of the crowd and pointing toward 
PAGLIA): So why don't you put on some nipple clamps? 

PAGLIA: Get into the new age! Okay? Grow up! Grow up! 

FEMALE ONLOOKER: Why doesn't she put on nipple clamps and, 
like, get on her knees then? (sarcastically) Okay, it'll be real artful. 

PAGLIA: Oh, wow! Yeah! Why don't you read a book, honey? You 
obviously haven't read something recently, okay? 

female onlooker: Oh, please! 

PAGLIA: Go buy a book. Go buy a book, (looks theatrically up and down 
the street) Where's a bookstore? (points to onlooker) Send this 
woman to a bookstore! (points to protester) Send this woman to an 


art store! Go look at a painting! Go look at Caravaggio, Mi- 
chelangelo! Look at Greek art! Okay? This is, like, so fucking 
puritanical. Go to India! Pro-sex Hinduism! This is bullshit! Bull- 
shit! (makes aggressive Rolling Stones toss of the mike) You people SUCK! 

FEMALE ONLOOKER: So are you saying that it's okay to degrade a 

PAGLIA (impatient): Oh, honey, go read a book! 
FEMALE ONLOOKER: Go read a book yourself! 
PAGLIA: You're into your ''degradation"! 

PAGLIA: You are in a mind-set! You have been brainwashed! You have 
been programmed! 

FEMALE ONLOOKER: No, no! I'm all for sex. I love sex. 

PAGLIA (suddenly noticing the animated onlooker's very appealing dusky skin 
and large breasts, bursting out of a tight, sleeveless olive-green military 
shirt): Uh uh. No! 

FEMALE ONLOOKER: I love sex, okay? 

PAGLIA (softening slightly because sensually distracted): Honey, go to a 


PAGLIA (pulling herself together): Oh, right. Yeah, except when it in- 
volves ideology, you love sex. Okay, let's move on to our next 
stop, Glennda. 

GLENNDA: Yeah, I think we should. 

PAGLIA (cheerfully): Bye now! 

GLENNDA (laughing): I think we've made our mark here. 
PAGLIA: Have a happy day! 

(Cut to GLENNDA and PAGLIA ten minutes later, standing in front of a 
restaurant and bar on Christopher Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village.) 



GLENNDA (sighing with relief): Whew! Here we are, Glennda and 
Camille, and I'm still overheated and trying to calm down from 
our encounter with the WAP women — Women Against Porn. 
Wow! That was quite a ruckus! 

PAGLIA: Those people were wimps! They had nothing! I mean, they're 
so used to bullying and harassing people on the street. When 
they had someone to contradict them, they just absolutely, you 
know, fell apart. And not only that, but their fascist attempt to 
shut off the cameras! They want to stand there and scream but 
not appear on camera. These people are hypocrites! These peo- 
ple have no courage. They're just like little schoolyard bullies. 

GLENNDA: Well, you know, I feel like we're safe now. We've, found 
refuge. We're at Stonewall. Stonewall — 

PAGLIA (in mock surprise): No, no! (raises her hands like an ecstatic Baroque 

GLENNDA: — where the revolution started. Yes! 

PAGLIA (looking at the bland facade of the renamed bar): This can't be 
Stonewall. Is this really Stonewall? 

GLENNDA: Yes. This is Stonewall. 

PAGLIA: Well, if it's really Stonewall, then, like the Pope, I have to 
kiss the ground. 


PAGLIA: All right. (She falls to her knees, kisses the pavement, and bows in 
Islamic obeisance.) Ah! Stonewall! 

GLENNDA (laughing): Wow. That was amazing. (In the background, the 
CENTURIONS, quaffing Evian, solemnly peruse the street.) 

PAGLIA: Where the drag queens revolted. 

GLENNDA: Yes. And you know what we should talk about now, 
Gamille? Actually, you need your microphone. (A crew member 
hands a mike to PAGLIA.J 

I PAGLIA (brightly, like TV host Bob Barker): Thank you! 



GLENNDA: The march on Washington. The [April 1993] gay march 
on Washington. 

paglia: Yeah. 

GLENNDA: Do you know, I saw a lot of news. I couldn't go, because 
I was too busy. As you were, too. We were just too busy. 

PAGLIA: Well, I was boycotting it, because I hate those people who 
run that. You know, they certainly did not open up the podium 
to anyone who did not agree with their views. 

GLENNDA: Right. The thing is there was a lot of focus away from 
drag queens. Because they were interviewing people on MTV, 
and everyone was saying, "Nope, no drag queens here! Look, 
no drag queens, just normal folks. Just white middle-class Amer- 
icans, and we just want our rights, and that's what it's all about!" 

PAGLIA (nodding in agreement): Actually, the C-Span cameras kept on 
showing a kind of huge sea of white middle-class people. It was 
like a shopping mall! 

GLENNDA: A sea of white faces. 

PAGLIA: Yes. And it was very discouraging, in many ways. It was 
sort of, like, you know, what's the point? These people are de- 
manding their rights? They look like they have their rights. Just 
a bunch of privileged people who just wanted to party. There 
was nothing particularly marginal, you know? People on the 
podium, claiming marginality, when in fact there were hundreds 
of thousands of shopping-mall people there! 

GLENNDA: Well, to be fair, there were a lot of drag queens there, but 
this group called the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defa- 
mation — the leaders sent out press releases saying "Please" to 
the general media, "Media, please do not focus on the drag 
queens and the leather people, because they're a bad represen- 
tation for our community." 

PAGLIA: Oh, it is disgusting. Oh, it is yuppification, yuppification! 
This is not the Sixties, okay? I mean, I hate this. 

GLENNDA: That's not revolutionary, to hide the drag queens. 



PAGLIA: That is not revolutionary, no, no. 

GLENNDA: You know, next year is the anniversary. Twenty-five years 
since the death of Judy Garland and the Stonewall Rebellion. 

PAGLIA: Oh, my God. Unbelievable. See, Stonewall — I mean, it was 
the drag queens who pulled up paving stones and fought back 
against the police. The drag queens were the ones who had the 
balls to fight. It wasn't the yuppified, white bourgeois gay guys 
who did any fighting! Okay? So the drag queens were at the 
start of the revolution. How easy it is for people to forget that! 

GLENNDA: Mmm hmm. 

PAGLIA: Exactly. See, I feel that the problem with gay activism right 
now is that it's too ghettoized. It wants special rights for one 
group. I feel the true Sixties revolution is about arguing for the 
protection of all nonconformist behavior of every kind. 

GLENNDA: Right. Absolutely. 

PAGLIA: Homosexuality is only one area within that, okay? And I 
think that that is the terrible flaw of gay activism. And so I 
don't get along at all with the gay activist establishment. It's 
that there's no philosophical perspective, there's no real vision 
in them. They're just a bunch of people who are totally insular. 
They hate me. They call me homophobic. Oh, right, with my 
history, I'm "homophobic," honey! Yeah, like I'm — 

GLENNDA: "Self-hating." 

PAGLIA: — I'm "misogynist" and "pro-rape." That's another one I 

GLENNDA (laughing): Pro-rape! 

PAGLIA: Right! And so the drag queens fit directly into such an 
argument. I mean, what could be more nonconforming than a 
drag queen? 

GLENNDA: Well, it's unfortunate that this gay rights movement has 
caused more marginalization of other groups — drag queens and 
cross-dressers, straight and gay cross-dressers, and people who 


are into the s & m lifestyle and fetishes. Those people are being 
pushed further into the margins, instead of, you know, a more 
inclusive — 

PAGLIA: Yeah. My thinking is that we need a libertarian philosophy 
that argues for the civil rights of all acts in the private realm. 
That's what I'm arguing for. And we cannot just have a sort of 
gay versus straight dichotomy, (angrily) Right now, the gay ac- 
tivist establishment is a bunch of sanctimonious, pious people 
up on a pulpit. I have never heard such dogma, except from 
the feminist establishment — that's the only one that's worse, you 

GLENNDA: A lot of feminist rhetoric trickles down into the gay move- 
ment, I've noticed. 

PAGLIA: That's right. And in my opinion, anyone in the gay activist 
movement who adopts feminist rhetoric is misogynist, because 
feminist rhetoric is based on the victimization of woman. 

GLENNDA: Mmm hmm. 

PAGLIA: Woman as victim. Drag queen philosophy is based on the 
idea of woman as dominatrix of the universe! Ruler of the cosmos! 
All right? That's why I follow the drag queen philosophy and 
not gay activist or feminist philosophy. 

( Cut to GLENNDA and PAGLIA amid the crowds at the annual Christopher 
Street Fair. Behind them, a handsome young gay man with a studded black- 
leather band around his biceps is vigorously pummeling a woman on a large 
wooden massage rack.) 

GLENNDA (with feigned innocence): Camille, what's going on? 
PAGLIA (gleefully): Someone is being tortured. 
GLENNDA: Wait — no, no, Camille, it's massage. 
PAGLIA: Oh, deep massage! 
GLENNDA: Deep massage. 

paglia: Interesting how massage and torture look so similar. 



GLENNDA: I thought we had stumbled upon an s & m street fair! 

PAGLIA: You know, I have heard of all kinds of massage rituals 
where people walk on backs and crack their back and so on. I 
mean, you know, Swedish massage is very close to s & m. 

GLENNDA: There's a very sadistic and masochistic relationship there. 

PAGLIA: There is. In fact, in old Hollywood movies there was the 
motif of the kind of big, burly woman who was the Swedish 
masseuse, you know? 

GLENNDA: Yeah. A big butch woman. 

PAGLIA: A big butch woman. And she would, like, hammer on you 
and so on. (beaming with delight) I think that this has not been 
really fully considered — the connection between Swedish mas- 
sage and s & m! 

GLENNDA: But I like seeing it out in the open. It's nice. Look! Look 
at him go! It's amazing. 

PAGLIA (laughing): Isn't that incredible! 


PAGLIA: Now, you know, I think a lot of this is a kind of substitute 
for the old rituals of the Catholic Church, where you would beat 
yourself, flagellate yourself — 

GLENNDA: Oh! But do you think it has pagan roots as well? 

PAGLIA: Well, I think all abuse of the body has pagan roots, yes. 
But the mortification of the flesh in the Middle Ages — you would 
atone for your sins by beating yourself till you were bloody. In 
fact, such excesses were forbidden at one point by the Church, 
because — 

GLENNDA: Are those the monks that whip themselves? (Imitates self- 
flagellation) I've seen — 



(Film of Eastern Rite monks whipping their bloody backs.) 

PAGLIA: Monks and nuns were getting very carried away. There 
were little tiny whips with hooks on the end. 

glennda: Wow. 

PAGLIA: Yeah. So a lot of the rituals of the Catholic Church have 
strong s & m components. 

GLENNDA: Do they still do that? 

PAGLIA: Well, the modern Church frowns on it, because it under- 
stood the kind of perverse sexual pleasure, apparently, that some 
monks and nuns were getting from it. 


PAGLIA: But Robert Mapplethorpe certainly realized this connec- 
tion. And my friend Bruce Benderson has often loved French 
decadent literature for its strange perverse Catholicism, an ob- 
session with s & m motifs. I feel there is a deep undercurrent 
of sadomasochism in the Catholic Church. Especially the Med- 
iterranean or Spanish versions of Catholicism. 

GLENNDA: Maybe that's what that gay Catholic group is all about. 

PAGLIA (pursing her lips): Oh — 

GLENNDA: There's a gay Catholic group. 

PAGLIA: I know, but Dignity is a little bit too white-bread for me! 

GLENNDA (laughing): They are. 

PAGLIA: They're too — they're a bunch of yuppies. 

GLENNDA: They are. 

PAGLIA: Really. No, I don't want to condemn them, but (grinning 
and smacking her lips obscenely) I want to put some blood into that 
little sect! 


( Cut to GLENNDA and CAMILLE standing outside Gay Pleasures, a bookstore 
on Hudson Street.) 

GLENNDA: Camille, let's go shopping for some good old-fashioned 
gay male pornography! 

PAGLIA: Yes, let's look for porn! 

OFF-CAMERA VOICE: Come on in! 

(GLENNDA, CAMILLE, and the CENTURIONS enter Gay Pleasures.) 
PAGLIA: Oh, I love it! 

GLENNDA: Wow! We're here at Gay Pleasures. 

PAGLIA: Oh, my gosh, (picking up a book) Anal Pleasure and Health! I 
love it. (picking up another one) Dream Stud! Look at these fabulous — 
now, you would never find such fabulous things in a (sarcastically) 
les-bi-an book store. 

GLENNDA (laughing): Oh, could you imagine? At Judith's Room [a 
lesbian bookstore}? 

PAGLIA: Oh, no-o-o. Oh, my God! (laughs) Oh, look, look! (plucks 
from a rack a postcard of David Sprigle's stylish nude photograph of a 
nonchalant, princely black man with a spiked silver collar and large erect 
penis) Now, see, if this were of a woman, you would have them 
carrying on about how it's degrading and exploitative — 

GLENNDA: Right. 

PAGLIA: — but they refuse to consider the realities of gay male porn, 
which is fabulous. 


| GLENNDA: I never hear feminists talk about gay male porn. 
PAGLIA: They don't. 
GLENNDA: Why is that? 

PAGLIA (heatedly): They don't want to admit it, because it disproves 
their theory that all porn is about the degradation of women, 
you see? And I'm saying I've learned an enormous amount from 


gay male porn! It's the hottest porn that there is! There's nothing 

GLENNDA: This is true. 

PAGLIA: Because, you see, right now, heterosexual porn, it's really 
not that interesting, because you've got just a lot of very expe- 
rienced, professional actresses who fake orgasm. Now, with men, 
you can't fake orgasm — 

GLENNDA: It's true. 

PAGLIA: I mean, it's either hard or it isn't hard, okay? (GLENNDA 
laughs.) So this is why I love gay male porn, and I think many 
other lesbian and bisexual women do as well, because it just is 
hot. It's totally hot! 

GLENNDA (looking at the displays): They have a lot of vintage stuff — 
old things from the Fifties. 

PAGLIA: Yes. I love things that come from a repressive past. 

GLENNDA: Like look at this — Boys in Leather. 

PAGLIA: Oh, right. Or this, with its kind of Greek motif — Trim. Not 
only that, but gay male porn is honest about the sexual allure of 
young people, okay? 

GLENNDA: Mmm hmm. Right. 

PAGLIA: And you'll notice that when there are boys of indeterminate 
age, and even when there are boys who are the correct legal 
age, they're made to look below the age, right? 

GLENNDA: It's a cult of youth and beauty. 

PAGLIA: It's a cult of youth and beauty. And I think that's absolutely 
correct, and it's one of the great repressed subjects of right now, 
okay? Because we're into this child abuse hysteria right now. 
Everyone's hysterical about it. 

GLENNDA: And it's killing sexuality. 

PAGLIA: Killing sexuality, okay? The Lolita syndrome is one of the 
few examples of it in a heterosexual context. And I think we're 



ripe for a revival of Lolita. Certainly we saw with Amy Fisher, 
okay, the "Long Island Lolita" — 

GLENNDA: "The Long Island Lolita." There's a musical called The 
Amy Fisher Musical. Did you hear about it? 

PAGLIA (dishily, like Joan Rivers): I heard about it! Yes, I saw a little 
bit of it. I love it. I mean, on TV, I saw a clip. 

GLENNDA: It looks like Funny Girl — the sign. ( GLENNDA demonstrates.) 
Like, for Funny Girl, and she's pointing a gun. 

PAGLIA (pointing to another magazine): Look! Hand Jobs, (camera catches 
the cover in closeup) Now, you see? Look how frank everything is 
here! I mean, the frankness — 

GLENNDA (laughing): It's out in the open. 

PAGLIA: With gay men, the frankness of sexual desire is admitted! I 
mean, there is no fooling around. There's no pretending it's like 
this emotional thing. 

GLENNDA: Ideology and theory. 

PAGLIA: There's no ideology. 

GLENNDA: Books of theory that you have to read! 

PAGLIA: It also avoids the sentimentality, the hand-holding, the 
pretending that it's ail about, you know, (imitates prissy, WASPy 
female voice) love and nurturing, (switches to raunchy Big Mama voice) 
There's no nurturing, okay, at all! (GLENNDA laughs.) I love it! 
It's like just get it hard, you know, get it out there, stick it through 
a hole, you know, get it off! I love it! 

GLENNDA (guffawing): Great. That's it, absolutely. 

PAGLIA: Yeah! So a lot of my theories about sex and pornography 
come from gay men, and this is the great, invisible subject. 

( Cut to shot of nearby magazine rack with magazines titled A Hard Lesson, 
Black and Proud, Black Pharaohs, and Penis Coladas.J 

GLENNDA: Why do you think there's such a vast amount of gay male 
pornography but not an equal amount of lesbian woman-on- 
woman porn? Why is that? 



PAGLIA: Well, my observations of this confirm what Masters and 
Johnson found. That is, on the track of sexual frequency, they 
found that the individuals with the most sexual experience and 
activity were gay men. Next down the line were straight men. 
Next down the line to that were straight women. The group of 
human beings with the least frequency of sexual activity were 
(trumpeting derisively) les-bi-ans, okay? 

GLENNDA (laughing): Is that why it's hard for you to get a date? 

PAGLIA (ruefully): I get no dates. My life has been a ruin. 


PAGLIA: I'm just an old nun. What can I say? No, it's true. Not 
only that, but there seems to be evidence that men are more 
visually stimulated towards, you know, sexual desire. Now, I'm 
just a kind of mutant, obviously, because I have always been 
highly interested in visual things. 

GLENNDA: But some days you feel like a man, right? Are there some 
days you wake up and you feel like a man? 

PAGLIA: I began as a man, and I'm turning back into a man at the 
end of my life, I'm afraid. As menopause approaches, I'm turn- 
ing back into a man, I think, yeah. 

GLENNDA: It's part of this abstract transsexualism, I've noticed. 

(Cut to Fifties footage of a muscular, oiled man lying languorously on his 
stomach with bare buttocks prominently aloft. He is skimming through a pa- 
perback called I Can Take It All. ) 

GLENNDA: You have like this transsexual streak. 

PAGLIA: Mmm hmm. Oh, I do. I absolutely do. I love it. (picks up 
a copy of a magazine called Stroke, with a cover photo of a nude man 
acrobatically performing auto-fellatio) Look at this! Look at this! 

GLENNDA: Those are the expensive ones. I always buy them when 
they're on sale. 

PAGLIA (reading the cover headline): Oddities and Atrocities. 



GLENNDA: But look — fifteen dollars. But they're good. 

PAGLIA: Oh, my God! That is great. That is absolutely great! (like 
a kid in a candy store) Oh, look at all this fabulous stuff! (leafing 
through another paperback) Oh, see, men in uniform! I love things 
with men in uniform. I love Tom of Finland. He's a great favorite 
of mine, and Robert Mapplethorpe loved Tom of Finland too. 

GLENNDA: He's great, yeah, (still looking at Stroke) Well, I like that 
this says Oddities and Atrocities, because so many people try to 
normalize gay sex. It's like, "It's normal, it's just like anything 
else." I don't want it to be normal, sometimes! 

PAGLIA: That's right, that's right. Exactly. 

GLENNDA: It's on the edge. It's outlaw. 

PAGLIA: Well, I feel that all sexuality makes use of the taboo. In any 
culture, okay, if something is taboo, it becomes erotic. For ex- 
ample, women's ankles were invisible throughout the nineteenth 
century, so the mere glimpse of a woman's ankle caused people 
to go into a frenzy of eroticism, you see? And so, yes, I love the 
title Oddities and Atrocities. I may take that for my next book! 

GLENNDA (laughing): That could be the subtitle for Sexual Personae, 
Part Two! 

PAGLIA: I'm looking for a title for my next book, my next essay 
collection, (joking) We may have found it, Glennda, right here! 
Right here! 

GLENNDA: We found it at Gay Pleasures. Oh, my God! Right here 
at Gay Pleasures! 

PAGLIA (addressing the camera confidentially, imitating Sandra Bernhard) 
Right here at this moment, you saw it! 

( Cut to GLENNDA and CAMILLE leafing through another bin of magazines 
and books.) 

GLENNDA: We're looking through some old 1950s . . . this one's 
called Tomorrow's Man, and that one's called — what is it called? 

paglia: Vim! 



GLENNDA: And the thing is, in the Fifties they sort of masqueraded 
these magazines as muscle builders, body builders, so that they 
could get away with selling them. But they're really, you know, 
for certain gay men to read and enjoy — 

PAGLIA: All kinds of bulging crotches. 

GLENNDA: Some of them have women in them. Like this one — the 
two bodybuilders holding up a sexy woman. 

PAGLIA (showing a photograph): Or this large bosom here. 

GLENNDA: Which I think is great, because I think a lot of modern 
gay porn doesn't. I like to see women in it sometimes, because 
I think there's something really hot to just have a woman there 
sometimes. It's like bisexual and — 

PAGLIA: I feel that's the revolution, Glennda! 

GLENNDA (nodding): Yeah. 

PAGLIA: I feel the revolution is for us to totally extend the level of 
our responsiveness in a bisexual direction. Whether we actually 
are bisexually active or not. 

GLENNDA: Right. It's your sexual imagination. 

PAGLIA: Sexual imagination! 

GLENNDA: It should, if you can include that and see sexuality as a 
continuum, rather than gay over here or straight over there. 

( Cut to GLENNDA and CAMILLE bathed in late afternoon light, as they stand 
near the splintered piers on the West Side Highway at 11th Street, near the 
old site of the Anvil, a notorious Seventies-era gay bar.) 

GLENNDA (like Judy Garland as Dorothy): Oh, my God, Camille! We 
made it all the way over to the piers. I didn't think it was gonna 
happen, but we're here. We made it! 

PAGLIA (like Dame Edna Everage): We have really been walking our 
little legs off today! 

GLENNDA: And this is as far west as you can really go. I mean, we're 
at the West Side, the Hudson River, and we're by one of the 
piers. But look — look at this pier, Camille. 



PAGLIA: It's amazing. 

GLENNDA: It's very postapocalyptic. 

PAGLIA: It really is. The pier is in a complete state of ruin. 
( Cut to pan of pier.) 

GLENNDA: You know what they call this pier? This is "The Sex 
Pier." People come here to have sex, late at night, during the 
day. Sexual outlaws come here — gay sexual outlaws. 

PAGLIA: That is so great. 

GLENNDA: And, you know, people fall in the water during sex or 
during their orgasm. Didn't Freud call the orgasm "The Little 
Death" . . . petite . . . petite — 

PAGLIA: Well, that goes back centuries, actually, that idea. 

GLENNDA: Oh, so he got it from somewhere else. 

PAGLIA: Yes. You really risk death here. The timbers seem shattered 
with the force of so many orgasms! 

GLENNDA: But that's the thing that gay men understand — the risks 
that you take sometimes in these public situations, that there's 
a little bit of a thrill. And maybe it's irresponsible, but if that's 
what you're into, you know, you have a right, if you want to come 
out here. 

PAGLIA: Mmm hmm. 

GLENNDA: Maybe you'll fall in the water, maybe you won't! 

PAGLIA: That's exactly right, Glennda. This is what I'm always 
saying about the feminist problem with date rape, okay? That 
gay men understand there is risk and danger in sexuality, par- 
ticularly the outlaw kind. I've learned so much from gay men. 
I'm sick and tired of women whining. They go on a date, they 
get in this car with a stranger, go to a man's room, and then 
they're surprised when something happens, you know? I mean, 
I love the gay male attitude, which is to go out into the dark, 
have anonymous sex. Right from the period of the Roman Em- 



pire — under the arches of the Colosseum — people understood 
that you go out on a sexual adventure as a gay man, you may 
not come home again. You may get beaten up. That's one of 
the thrills. That is the aura. It's sort of the erotic aura that's 
around outlaw sex. So again I feel that gay men have so much 
to teach establishment feminism about what sex is. 

(Cut to GLENNDA and CAMILLE at another pier, with the World Trade 
Center towers in the distance behind them.) 

GLENNDA (addressing the camera): Camille and I have finished our 
tour! It's the end of Glennda and Camille Do Downtown. 

PAGLIA: It's been a wonderful day, Glennda! 

GLENNDA: It was beautiful. Of course, we learned a lot. We talked 
about a lot of topics, (to the camera) And just keep tuning in to 
the show, (to PAGLIA,) Maybe we'll do another show. 

PAGLIA: This is fabulous! 

GLENNDA: Or two. 

PAGLIA: Maybe this'll be a series! 

GLENNDA: Yeah — Glennda and Camille . . . The Series/ (They laugh.) 
Thanks for tuning in. Bye! 

PAGLIA (waving cheerfully to the camera like the Beverly Hillbillies): Bye, 

(Loud rock music as credits roll over montage of the day: the CENTURIONS 
stopping traffic at the arch, PAGLIA castigating the WAP women and kissing 
the ground at Stonewall, PAGLIA showing ojf a Keith Richards graphic on 
the back of her T-shirt, GLENNDA and PAGLIA doing a hip-bumping boogie. 
Cut to GLENNDA and PAGLIA snickering on 8th Street, when they first spot 
the women protesters half a block away.) 

PAGLIA (yelling with delight): Hey, bitches! (lewdly sticks out tongue) 

GLENNDA (giggling): Let's tip their table over! 

PAGLIA (laughing and cupping hand to mouth): Feminist bitches! 


gypsy tigress: 


Georges Bizet's Carmen (1875) is the first music I remember 
hearing as a child. It remains for me the definition of what music 
is and what it should be — brilliant and passionate, overwhelming 
the senses with its directness and force. 

I was mesmerized by a picture of Rise Stevens as Carmen in 
the album notes. For some reason, the fiery, laughing lady with 
piercing eyes had a rose between her teeth. It seemed savage and 
strange, an unsettling symbolism I never understood. In my parents' 
opera book was a colorful drawing of the toreador Escamillo parad- 
ing in his glittering suit of lights. I loved his arrogance and glamour. 
And so at age six in 1953, I was Escamillo for Halloween. There is 
a photograph of me beaming in my black satin outfit trimmed with 
red and posing with a furled umbrella in lieu of a sword. 

We are in a period where it has become fashionable to attack 
the great classics of art. A debunking cynicism passes for sophisti- 
cation these days. "Misogyny," "male domination," and "phallic 
violence" are everywhere, we are told, in nineteenth-century opera, 
with its suffering heroines. The ravishing music merely masks the 

[Stagebill, August 1992] 




"oppression" for a callous bourgeois audience. Carmen, for example, 
is a "male fantasy," and the opera is, at heart, a "snuff film." 

Well, Carmen is no male fantasy, for she was my fantasy too. 
Bizet's heroine, even more imperious than her somewhat rough and 
uncouth gypsy forebear in Prosper Merimee's original novella 
(1845), is a spectacular sexual persona, a charismatic dominatrix 
possible only in Western culture, which gave birth to the indepen- 
dent, strong-speaking woman. The role has been treated in a variety 
of ways by different singers, whose voices range from throaty low 
mezzo to soprano. Some Carmens are cool and detached; others are 
earthy and tempestuous. 

The most famous American Carmen was Rise Stevens, whose 
hot-blooded, highly physical, and knockabout version was first per- 
formed at the Met in 1943. Maria Callas never appeared onstage in 
Carmen but made a much admired studio recording in Paris in 1964. 
The theme has been a favorite in movie history ever since the first 
silent versions were filmed in France ( 1 909) and Spain (1910). Theda 
Bara, Pola Negri, Dolores Del Rio, and Rita Hayworth have starred 
in the title role. Dorothy Dandridge was superb in Otto Preminger's 
modernized Carmen Jones (1954), with its all-black cast. Marilyn 
Home provided the vocal track. 

The plot of Carmen has important precedents in Western liter- 
ature. The officer Don Jose lured away from his military duty by 
the temptress Carmen recalls Aeneas delayed by Dido's sensuality 
and Mark Antony throwing away the world for Cleopatra. In a 
Greek myth, the hero Hercules, enslaved to Omphale, actually dons 
women's clothing. All these stories ask questions about love and 
manhood. Sex contains many dangers. There is the risk of loss of 
identity. Shakespeare's treatment of the Antony and Cleopatra saga 
is complex and profound: he shows how Antony is enlarged by love 
but finally destroyed by his reckless disregard of his public obliga- 
tions as a man. This is also Jose's fate. 

Carmen is secondly a work of Romanticism. The gypsies, with 
their mysterious nomadic past, represent life in nature, an energy 
wild and free. As thieves and smugglers, they are outcasts and out- 
laws, rebel personae celebrated by the Romantics. Don Jose, the 
deserter joining the gypsies, is a runaway and dropout, a motif 



familiar to us from the 1960s counterculture. He turns his back on 
respectability, career advancement, and social acceptance. But he 
puts all responsibility for his identity on Carmen. He makes himself 
passive to her and thereby loses her interest. When she leaves him, 
he is nothing. Hence his rage and despair. The opera is a tragedy 
for both the central characters. 

One of the most Romantic elements in Carmen is its interest in 
intense emotion, which defeats reason, prudence, and common sense, 
the balanced, moderate values of eighteenth-century neoclassicism. 
The opera is a case study of jealousy, which swallows Jose up in 
mad excess. Like Othello, he destroys the thing he loves. We are 
currently amidst a national debate over rape and its motives. Bizet's 
Carmen compellingly shows how a gentle, unassuming man can be 
swept toward violence and murder. 

Jose's psychology is expertly drawn. He is deeply attached to 
his mother and native village. Micaela, his pious, mild-mannered 
fiancee, comes to him as his mother's ambassador. Like Shake- 
speare's Octavia, Micaela represents conventional womanhood, a 
simplicity, innocence, and purity. She offers her man the quiet de- 
votion of a lifetime. Carmen, on the other hand, like Cleopatra, is 
a brawler and tawny-skinned tigress, overtly sexual and rapacious. 
Jose is fascinated by Carmen's egotism and flamboyance, her brassy 
brio and malicious sense of fun. Like Cleopatra, she has the many 
moods of a woman but the aggression and drive of a man. 

But what attracts Jose to Carmen is also what is dangerous 
about her. Loving her is a gamble, and Jose loses. His simple idealism 
about women, whom he identifies with his saintly mother, does not 
prepare him for a monumental natural phenomenon like Carmen, 
with her unbridled appetites and volatility. He is naive, sentimental. 
When Carmen coldly spurns him, his childishness and dependency 
return. His personality is not strong enough to withstand rejection. 
He murders her as a way to preserve their connection. And his 
horrified lament over her body immediately snaps back into a yearn- 
ing for maternal consolation, as if he has been suddenly orphaned. 
Perhaps this vocal passage is harmonically unresolved because man's 
relation to woman can never be resolved. 

Carmen is no helpless victim. It is simply untrue that the opera 

3 1 O 


misogynistically condemns a woman to death for wanting a modern 
sexual freedom. As one of the great femmes fatales of nineteenth- 
century art, the voluptuous, bewitching, promiscuous Carmen has 
an inner perversity and, at times, a cruelty bordering on the sadistic. 
She first flirts with Jose merely because he is ignoring her. She enjoys 
the challenge of seduction but becomes quickly bored. She keeps 
trading up the male hierarchy, going after Escamillo because he is 
the hottest new property. She uses and dumps Jose, insulting and 
humiliating him unnecessarily and finally obliterating his identity. 
He is conquered by Escamillo as much as by Carmen. Psychologi- 
cally castrated, he avenges himself with the phallic knife. 

Carmen is structured very much like Euripides' Bacchae. The 
working-class gypsy is, like the populist god Dionysus, an anarchic 
alien associated with magic, dance, and the pleasure principle. Both 
Carmen and Dionysus lure a representative of the social order away 
into the archetypal forest, where they cavalierly deconstruct his mas- 
culine personality. Throughout the opera, the pagan elements of 
Western culture are still at war with Judeo-Christianity, whose calm, 
ascending, hymnlike measures Micaela and Jose use in vain against 
Carmen's frenzied, escalating, percussive dance accents. 

It was Bizet's riveting Spanish dance music that first seized my 
attention as a child. I now see it pointed toward my generation's 
domination by rock, which is energized by African-American dance 
rhythms. Carmen's romantic story line, climaxing in a murder, is 
itself a kind of bohemian apache dancing, a bruising courtship ritual. 
The toreador too is a dancer who flirts with death. 

The finale is brilliantly staged. Merimee's Carmen dies in the 
forest, but Bizet ends his story as he began it, in a public square, 
the symbol of Jose's lost social status. Alienated, solitary, he tries 
to stop Carmen from entering the arena where the bullfight is about 
to begin. The roaring crowd, hailing his rival Escamillo, is the com- 
munity from which Jose is now severed. A dark, eerie, sinister music 
wells up, like an earth tremor or rising storm wind. It is the shadow 
of Fate as well as the raw, elemental power of sexuality that Carmen 
has aroused but cannot control. We feel someone will die, but it 
could as well be Jose. 

In this parallel performance outside the arena, Carmen taunts 
and goads Jose as if he were a bull. Trying to pass him, she is gored. 


31 1 

She dies in the dirt, in squalor. But her last moments are those of 
heroic defiance, as she chooses freedom above surrender. She refuses 
to whine, cower, beg, or plead. She has acted, and she accepts full 
responsibility for her actions. Capricious, carnal, greedy for life, she 
has played the dangerous game of sex by her own rules. Death is 
merely her final adventure. 


"Lewis Carroll" was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodg- 
son (1832-98), a mathematician and Anglican deacon who spent 
his entire adult life as a sheltered fellow of Christ Church College 
at Oxford University. Dodgson belongs to the history of literature, 
rather than mathematics, because of his two masterpieces, Alice's 
Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), 
which were inspired by Alice Pleasance Liddell, young daughter of 
the dean of Christ Church. 

The Alice books are the greatest examples of the crowded genre 
of Victorian children's literature, which sprang from the new Ro- 
mantic vision of the child. For Rousseau and Wordsworth, children 
have a primal innocence and purity; they are saintly and sexless 
ambassadors of nature, untouched by corrupt society. Throughout 
Victorian literature, including the classic novels of Charles Dickens, 
the orphaned girl-child is the supreme symbol of profound emotion 
and beleaguered virtue. 

Carroll's Alice, one of the outstanding characters of world lit- 
erature, is not an orphan, but in her stories she is mysteriously 

[Introduction, Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland I Alice Through the Looking 
Glass, Book-of-the-Month Club, 1994] 



parentless. We hear of a sister, a nurse, and three cats, but the entire 
adult world has been obliterated. It exists as empty architectural 
spaces, as in eerie De Chirico paintings — a schoolroom or a drawing 
room with a stone mantel, clock face, and mirror, through which 
Alice steps into another dimension. The invisible hierarchical system 
of social and familial authority has been re-created instead in the 
'"wonderland" of the unconscious, our fascinating, baffling dream 
life that Carroll, before Freud, was the first to systematically explore. 

The Alice stories are modern psychological fairy tales but also 
clever mock epics, like Pope's The Rape of the Lock. A seven-year-old 
girl is the intrepid protagonist, embarked on the archetypal journey 
of myth and legend that represents life itself. It is inquisitiveness, a 
"burning" curiosity or thirst for knowledge, that plummets Alice 
into her adventures in both books. Alone and lost, she shows courage 
and resourcefulness. Strange, menacing beings and disorienting al- 
terations of space and time beset her. But she survives by her wits, 
reasoning her way through each problem and struggling to maintain 
the imperial British code of good manners amid confusion and chaos. 
On her heroic quest, normally the province of male warriors, Alice 
is forever the outsider, the alien, rebuffed by hostile cliques and 
quarreling in-groups, from the Mad Tea Party to the Garden of Live 

On her travels over the meadows and through the woods, Alice 
never turns into Huck Finn, a smudged vagabond scamp. She re- 
mains the well-bred young lady, her crisp apron and pinafore un- 
disheveled even when she falls into a pool of tears or rockets up and 
down, bizarrely changing size. After Bloomsbury, we have been too 
ready to see male oppression in the nineteenth century. Alice's re- 
silient femininity shows the power of Victorian womanhood. Rarely 
fearful and never frail or hysterical, Alice reflects Carroll's real-life 
adulation of little girls as superior to boys, whom he loathed and 

The circumstances surrounding the composition of the Alice 
books would, in today's climate of sexual suspicion, get the author 
into very hot water indeed. On July 4, 1862, two bachelor clergymen, 
Carroll and Robinson Duckworth, took the three Liddell sisters on 
one of many private boating parties on the Thames, which at various 
times ended in the group hiding from the summer sun under a 

3 14 


hayrick or getting soaked to the skin from a thunderstorm. On this 
particular day, Carroll, entertaining the children with his usual ex- 
temporaneous tales and riddles, created a fantasy starring his special 
favorite, Alice, which was so mesmerizing that she pleaded for him 
to write it down. The first manuscript was called Alice's Adventures 
under Ground. 

A lifelong celibate, Carroll had no known romances with adults. 
Quiet, awkward, and introverted, he was afflicted with a bad stam- 
mer that disappeared only in the company of children, whom he 
loved to entertain. While traveling, he carried a black bag of games, 
tricks, and puzzles to pique the attention of little girls. Carroll's 
intentions were probably not overtly physical, like those of Humbert 
Humbert in Nabokov's Lolita, but perhaps it is naive to deny there 
was an element of sublimated, voyeuristic eroticism in his attraction 
to girls, with whom he may have secretly identified. As an amateur 
portrait photographer of considerable distinction, Carroll took a 
series of nude or seminude pictures of girls, many of which were 
later destroyed, at his instructions. It appears that Mrs. Liddell, the 
Dean's wife, disliked Carroll's loitering persistence, though he was 
tolerated as a harmless, if tiresome, eccentric. 

Games the Liddell sisters were learning — first croquet, then 
chess — shape the two books. Carroll's vivid characters are often 
game pieces come to life — the furious, stentorian Queen of Hearts 
and her playing-card children, trembling gardeners, and loyal sol- 
diers, who bend double to serve as croquet arches; or the pursed, 
dictatorial Red Queen and kindly, untidy White Queen, whom Alice, 
in her female rites of passage, encounters on the testing ground of 
a vast geographical chessboard. Game motifs are also present in the 
Dodo bird's tumultuous, circular Caucus-race and in the fierce ritual 
combats of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Lion and Unicorn, 
and the Red Knight and maladroit White Knight. We know that 
Carroll, a workaholic, obsessive-compulsive organizer and chronic 
insomniac, used puzzles, math problems, and quirky mental inven- 
tions to get himself through the night and to drive away irreverent 
or impure thoughts. He was an early speculator in symbolic logic: 
one of his academic books is called The Game of Logic. 

But beyond this, Carroll sees all of life as a game, whose rules 
we must learn by comic trial and error. Despite our best intentions, 


3 15 

reality often proves refractory or rebellious, as when Alice, earnestly 
trying to play croquet, finds her mallet, a live flamingo, twisting 
itself upward to stare her in the face. Many Freudian interpretations 
of the Alice books treat them in distressingly reductive terms as 
neurotic manifestations of a social misfit. But it is equally possible 
to see Carroll's maimed isolation and detachment as the inspiration 
for his coolly scientific view of society as a webwork of conventions. 
The best examples are his tea-party and courtroom scenes, with 
their elaborate ceremonial formalism. Critics have rightly noted Car- 
roll's prefiguration of Kafka's The Trial and The Castle, modernist 
portraits of amoral, arbitrary authority. 

There are analogies to the then-developing discipline of an- 
thropology: Alice visits culture after culture, meeting their despotic 
rulers, learning their foods, customs, and languages, and inadver- 
tently violating their surprising taboos. For instance, she finds herself 
in a Cyclops-like cave, the dusky shop of the curt, taciturn knitting 
Sheep, with its porous shelving and uncooperative floating curios 
and magic transformation into a stream lined with scented rushes. 
There may also be influences from Darwin's natural history: Alice 
confronts a host of familiar and exotic animals, insects, and plants, 
who deem themselves quite equal and even superior to mere humans. 
Each being has its own story, poem, or song, lengthy spiritual au- 
tobiographies or genealogies which Alice listens to with polite pa- 
tience that wears thin as the day goes on. 

Carroll's anthropomorphism is never coy or sentimental, in the 
standard Victorian way. The Alice books have the uncanny animism 
of primitive religion: these daunting creatures are bold, brash, and 
sharp-tongued. Even a pudding comes alive and indignantly berates 
Alice ("What impertinence!") for cutting a slice of it. Tooth-and- 
claw Darwinian themes of violence and carnivorousness abound: 
Alice is always catching herself as she carelessly or, as Freud would 
say, perversely mentions a predator (cats, humans) to its prey (mice, 
birds, fish). And she herself has a quite un-Wordsworthian spirit of 
sadistic mischief, as when she frightens her old nurse by shouting 
in her ear, "Nurse! Do let's pretend that I'm a hungry hyena, and 
you're a bone!" Carroll systematically subverts Victorian moralism 
by making didacticism synonymous with humorlessness and sterility. 

The aggressive voices of Carroll's characters are unique and 

3 16 


unforgettable. As in the great tradition of British drama (Carroll's 
childhood love of the theater was squelched by his clergyman father), 
personality is created by the power of language. Animals or objects 
burst into speech and hector Alice, who holds her own in scuffling 
fencing-matches of prickly dialogue. Carroll's meditations on lan- 
guage anticipate twentieth-century literary theory. Both the Gnat 
and Humpty Dumpty speculate about the relativity of names, and 
the Cheshire Cat makes a philosophical argument for radical sub- 
jectivity in our perceptions of the world. The ersatz Anglo-Saxon 
poem "Jabberwocky" uses punning "portmanteau" words simul- 
taneously to intensify meaning and to break it down into Carrollian 
"nonsense" or absurdity. There is a persistent oscillation between 
language and silence, as the seething, quarrelsome characters sud- 
denly stop and stare at each other, mute and stunned. 

The dramatic panache of the Alice books was appreciated early 
on: a stage version of Alice in Wonderland appeared in London in 1886, 
while Carroll was still alive. There have been three movies (released 
in 1933, 1950, and 1972) and an animated Walt Disney musical 
version (1951). However, the most indelible images remain those 
created by Sir John Tenniel, a brilliant illustrator who labored under 
Carroll's vexingly punctilious supervision. The Tenniel Alice with 
long blonde tresses was based on another Carroll intimate, Mary 
Badcock, rather than slim, dark-haired Alice Liddell, whose con- 
nection to the first book was prudently obscured. 

But it is surely Alice LiddelPs personality that draws us in and 
charms us. "Who am I?" Carroll's Alice asks, like Odysseus, Oed- 
ipus, and Hamlet, as she makes her way past the Elysian throngs 
of boors, bores, and bullies, the meddlers, dandies, raconteurs, mon- 
omaniacs, melancholies, tricksters, sophists, gurus, gluttons, loafers, 
ninnies, male bunglers, and female termagants. The Alice books are 
a Saturnalian dream-within-a-dream, a sequence of surreal cine- 
matic episodes linked by the melting transitions and misty amnesia 
of our innermost stream-of-consciousness. "I've a right to think," 
Alice defiantly declares to the ugly Duchess. In Carroll's panorama 
of the mind, where Romantic imagination and Enlightenment in- 
tellect join, Alice is our proxy in stubbornly making sense out of the 
flux of time. 


In evaluating love poetry, we must first ask whether the language 
is private and original or formulaic and rhetorical. Is the poet speak- 
ing for him- or herself, or is the voice a persona? The poem, if 
commissioned by friend or patron, may be a projection into another's 
adventures, or it may be an improvised conflation of real and in- 
vented details. A love poem cannot be simplistically read as a literal, 
journalistic record of an event or relationship; there is always some 
fictive reshaping of reality for dramatic or psychological ends. A love 
poem is secondary rather than primary experience; as an imagina- 
tive construction, it invites detached contemplation of the spectacle 
of sex. 

We must be particularly cautious when dealing with contro- 
versial forms of eroticism like homosexuality. Poems are unreliable 
historical evidence about any society; they may reflect the con- 
sciousness of only one exceptional person. Furthermore, homoerotic 
images or fantasies in poetry must not be confused with concrete 
homosexual practice. We may speak of tastes or tendencies in early 
poets but not of sexual orientation: this is a modern idea. 

[The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Alex Preminger and 
T. V. F. Bogan, eds., 3rd edition, 1993] 


3 18 


Love poetry is equally informed by artistic tradition and con- 
temporary cultural assumptions. The pagan attitude toward the 
body and its pleasures was quite different from that of Christianity, 
which assigns sex to the fallen realm of nature. The richness of 
Western love poetry may thus arise in part from the dilemma of 
how to reconcile mind or soul with body. Moreover, the generally 
higher social status of women in Western as opposed to Eastern 
culture has given love poetry added complexity or ambivalence: only 
women of strong personality could have produced the tormented 
sagas of Catullus or Propertius. We must try to identify a poem's 
intended audience. In antiquity the love poet was usually addressing 
a coterie of friends or connoisseurs; since Romanticism, however, 
the poet speaks to him- or herself, with the reader seeming to over- 
hear private thoughts. We must ask about pornographic material in 
love poetry whether it reflects the freer sensibilities of a different 
time or whether the poet set out to shock or challenge his contem- 
poraries. Much love poetry is clearly testing the limits of decorous 
speech, partly to bring sexual desire under the scrutiny and control 
of imagination. In the great Western theme of the transience of time, 
vivid sensuous details illustrate the evanescence of youth and beauty; 
the poet has a godlike power to defeat time and bestow immortality 
upon the beloved through art. Romantic impediments give the poem 
a dramatic frame: the beloved may be indifferent, far away, married 
to someone else, dead, or of the wrong sex. However, difficulty or 
disaster in real life is converted into artistic opportunity by the poet, 
whose work profits from the intensification and exploration of neg- 
ative emotion. 

The history of European love poetry begins with the Greek lyric 
poets of the Archaic age (7th-6th centuries B.C.). Archilochus, Mim- 
nermus, Sappho, and Alcaeus turn poetry away from the grand epic 
style toward the quiet personal voice, attentive to mood and emotion. 
Despite the fragmentary survival of Greek solo poetry, we see that 
it contains a new idea of love, which Homer shows as foolish or 
deceptive but never unhappy. Archilochus' account of the anguish 
of love is deepened by Sappho, whose poetry was honored by male 
writers and grammarians until the fall of Rome. Sappho and Alcaeus 
were active on Lesbos, an affluent island off the Aeolian coast of 
Asia Minor, where aristocratic women apparently had more freedom 


3 19 

than later in classical Athens. Sappho is primarily a love poet, un- 
interested in politics or metaphysics. The nature of her love has 
caused much controversy and many fabrications, some by major 
scholars. Sappho was married, and she had a daughter, but her 
poetry suggests that she fell in love with a series of beautiful girls, 
who moved in and out of her coterie (not a school, club, or cult). 
There is as yet no evidence, however, that she had physical relations 
with women. Even the ancients, who had her complete works, were 
divided about her sexuality. 

Sappho shows that love poetry is how Western personality de- 
fines itself. The beloved is passionately perceived but also replace- 
able; he or she may exist primarily as a focus of the poet's 
consciousness. In "He seems to me a god" (fr. 31), Sappho describes 
her pain at the sight of a favorite girl sitting and laughing with a 
man. The lighthearted social scene becomes oppressively internal, 
as the poet sinks into suffering: she cannot speak or see; she is 
overcome by fever, tremor, pallor. "This description of the symptoms 
of love had the most persistent influence over more than a thousand 
years" (Albin Lesky). In plain, concise language, Sappho analyzes 
her extreme state as if she were both actor and observer; she is 
candid and emotional yet dignified, austere, almost clinical. This 
poem, preserved for us by Longinus, is the first great psychological 
document of Western literature. Sappho's prayer to Aphrodite 
(fr. 1) converts cult-song into love poem. The goddess, amused at 
Sappho's desperate appeal for aid, teasingly reminds her of 
former infatuations and their inevitable end. Love is an endless cycle 
of pursuit, triumph, and ennui. The poem, seemingly so charming 
and transparent, is structured by a complex time scheme of past, 
present, and future, the ever-flowing stream of our emotional life. 
Sappho also wrote festive wedding songs and the first known de- 
scription of a romantic moonlit night. She apparently invented the 
now-commonplace adjective "bittersweet" for the mixed condition 
of love. 

Early Greek love poetry is based on simple parallelism between 
human emotion and nature, which has a Mediterranean mildness. 
Love-sickness, like a storm, is sudden and passing. Imagery is vivid 
and luminous, as in haiku; there is nothing contorted or artificial. 
Anacreon earned a proverbial reputation for wine, women, and song: 



his love is not Sappho's spiritual crisis but the passing diversion of 
a bisexual bon vivant. Love poetry was little written in classical 
Athens, where lyric was absorbed into the tragic choral ode. Plato, 
who abandoned poetry for philosophy, left epigrams on the beauty 
of boys. The learned Alexandrian age revived love poetry as an art 
mode. Theocritus begins the long literary tradition of pastoral, where 
shepherds complain of unrequited love under sunny skies. Most of 
his Idylls contain the voices of rustic characters like homely Poly- 
phemus, courting the scornful nymph Galatea, or Lycidas, a goat- 
herd pining for a youth gone to sea. Aging Theocritus broods about 
his own love for fickle boys, whose blushes haunt him. In his Epi- 
grams, Callimachus takes a lighter attitude toward love, to which he 
applies sporting metaphors of the hunt. In Medea's agonized passion 
for Jason in the Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius tries to mesh love 
poetry with epic. Asklepiades adds new symbols to love tradition: 
Eros and arrow-darting Cupid. Meleager writes with equal relish of 
cruel boys and voluptuous women, such as Heliodora. His is a poi- 
gnant, sensual poetry filled with the color and smell of flowers. 

The Greek Anthology demonstrates the changes in Greek love 
poetry from the Alexandrian through Roman periods. As urban 
centers grow and speed up, nature metaphors recede. Trashy street 
life begins, and prostitutes, drag queens, randy tutors, and bathhouse 
masseuses crowd into view. Love poets become droll, jaded, less 
lyrical. Women are lusciously described but given no personalities 
or inner life. Leonidas of Tarentum and Marcus Argentarius write 
of voracious sluts with special skills; Antipater of Thessalonika 
coarsely derides scrawny old lechers. For the first time, love poetry 
incorporates ugliness, squalor, disgust. Boy-love is universal: Straton 
of Sardis, editor of an anthology of pederastic poems, celebrates the 
ripening phases of boys' genitals. By the early Byzantine period, 
however, we feel the impact of Christianity, in more heartfelt sen- 
timent but also in guilt and melancholy. 

The Romans inherited a huge body of Greek love poetry. Ca- 
tullus, the first Latin writer to adapt elegy for love themes, is obsessed 
with Lesbia, the glamourous noblewoman Clodia, promiscuously 
partying with midnight pickups. "I love and I hate": this tortured 
affair is the most complex contribution to love poetry since Sappho, 
whom Catullus admired and imitated. The poet painfully grapples 


32 1 

with the ambiguities and ambivalences of being in love with an 
aggressive, willful Western woman. He also writes tender love poems 
to a boy, honey-sweet Juventius. There is no Roman love poetry 
between adult men. Propertius records a long, tangled involvement 
with capricious Cynthia, a fast-living new woman. There are sensual 
bed scenes, love-bites, brawls. After Cynthia dies (perhaps poi- 
soned), the angry, humiliated poet sees her ghost over his bed. 
Tibullus writes of troubled love for two headstrong mistresses, adul- 
terous Delia and greedy Nemesis, and one elusive boy, Marathus. 
In Vergil's Eclogue 2, the shepherd Corydon passionately laments 
his love-madness for Alexis, a proud, beautiful youth; the poem was 
traditionally taken as proof of Vergil's own homosexuality. Horace 
names a half dozen girls whom he playfully lusts for, but only the 
rosy boy Ligurinus moves him to tears and dreams. In the Amoves, 
Ovid boasts of his sexual prowess and offers strategies for adultery. 
The Art of Love tells how to find and keep a lover, including sexual 
positions, naughty words, and feigned ecstasies; The Remedies for Love 
contains precepts for falling out of love. The love-letters of the Heroides 
are rhetorical monologues of famous women (Phaedra, Medea) 
abandoned by cads. Juvenal shows imperial Rome teeming with 
effeminates, libertines, and pimps; love or trust is impossible. The 
Empress prowls the brothels; every good-looking boy is endangered 
by rich seducers; drunken wives grapple in public stunts. Martial 
casts himself as a facetious explorer of this lewd world where erec- 
tions are measured and no girl says no. The Dionysiaca, Nonnus' late 
Greek epic, assembles fanciful erotic episodes from the life of Dion- 
ysus. Also extant are many Greek and Latin priapeia: obscene comic 
verses, attached to phallic statues of Priapus in field and garden, 
which threaten thieves with anal or oral rape. 

In medieval romance, love as challenge, danger, or high ideal 
is central to chivalric quest. From the mid- 12th century, woman 
replaces the feudal lord of the militaristic chansons de geste. French 
aristocratic taste was refined by the courtly love of the Occitan 
(Provencal) troubadours, who raised woman to spiritual dominance, 
something new in Western love poetry. Amorous intrigue now lures 
the hero: to consummate his adultery with Guinevere, Chretien de 
Troyes' Lancelot bends the bars of her chamber, then bleeds into 
her bed. The symbolism of golden grail, bleeding lance, and broken 



sword of Chretien's Perceval is sexual as well as religious. Wolfram 
von Eschenbach's German Parzival is vowed to purity, but adul- 
terous Anfortas suffers a festering, incurable groin wound. Sexual 
temptations are specifically set to test a knight's virtue in the French 
romances Yder and Hunbaut and the Middle English Sir Gawain and 
the Green Knight. The adultery of Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan 
and Isolde, with their steamy lovemaking, helped define Western 
romantic love as unhappy or doomed. The Trojan tale of faithful 
Troilus and treacherous Cressida was invented by Benoit de Sainte- 
Maure and transmitted to Boccaccio and Chaucer. Heavily influ- 
enced by Ovid, The Romance of the Rose (Guillaume de Lorris and 
Jean de Meun) uses dreamlike allegory and sexual symbols of flower, 
garden, and tower to chart love's assault. The pregnancy of the Rose 
is a first for European literary heroines. Abelard wrote famous love 
songs, now lost, to Heloise. Dante's youthful love poems to Beatrice 
in the Vita nuova begin in troubadour style, then modulate toward 
Christian mysticism. In the Inferno's episode of Paolo and Francesca, 
seduced into adultery by reading a romance of Lancelot, Dante 
renounces his early affection for courtly love. Medieval Latin lyrics 
express homoerotic feeling between teacher and student in monastic 
communities. There are overtly pederastic poems from the 12th 
century and at least one apparently lesbian one, but no known 
vernacular or pastoral medieval poetry is homosexual. The goliardic 
Carmina Burana contain beautiful lyrics of the northern flowering of 
spring and love, as well as cheeky verses of carousing and wenching, 
some startlingly detailed. The French fabliau, a ribald verse-tale twice 
imitated by Chaucer, reacts against courtly love with bedroom 
pranks, barnyard drubbings, and an earthy stress on woman's hoary 
genitality. Villon, zestfully atumble with Parisian trollops, will later 
combine the devil-may-care goliard's pose with the fabliau's slangy 

Renaissance epic further expands the romantic element in chi- 
valric adventure. Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso open quest to an 
armed heroine, a motif adopted by Spenser, whose Faerie Queene, 
emulating Ovid's Metamorphoses, copiously catalogues incidents of 
normal and deviant sex. Petrarch, combining troubadour lyricism 
with Dante's advanced psychology, creates the modern love poem. 
His Laura, unlike saintly Beatrice, is a real woman, not a symbol. 



Petrarch's nature, vibrating to the lover's emotions, will become the 
Romantic pathetic fallacy. His conceits, paradoxes, and images of 
fire and ice, which spread in sonnet sequences throughout Europe, 
inspired and burdened Renaissance poets, who had to discard the 
convention of frigid mistress and trembling wooer. Ronsard's son- 
nets, addressed to Cassandre, Marie, and Helene, first follow Pe- 
trarchan formulas, then achieve a simpler, more musical, debonair 
style, exquisitely attuned to nature. In the Amoretti Spenser practices 
the sonnet (introduced to England by Wyatt and Surrey), but his 
supreme love poem is the Epithalamion, celebrating marriage. Like 
Michelangelo, Shakespeare writes complex love poetry to a beautiful 
young man and a forceful woman: the fair youth's homoerotic an- 
drogyny is reminiscent of Shakespeare's soft, "lovely" Adonis and 
Marlowe's longhaired, white-fleshed Leander, romanced by Nep- 
tune. Richard Barnfield's sonnets and Affectionate Shepherd openly 
offer succulent sexual delights to a boy called Ganymede, a common 
Renaissance allusion. The traditional allegory, based on the Song 
of Songs, of Christ the bridegroom knocking at the soul's door, 
creates unmistakable homoeroticism in Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV, 
George Herbert's "Love (III)", and spiritual stanzas of St. John of 
the Cross. In ardent poems to his fiancee, later his wife, Donne, with 
Spenser, demonstrates the new prestige of marriage: before this, no 
one wrote love poetry to his wife. Furthermore, Donne's erudition 
implies that his lady, better educated than her medieval precursors, 
enjoys flattery of her intellect as well as of her beauty. Aretino's 
sonnets daringly use vulgar street terms for acts of love. Marino's 
Adonis makes Baroque opera out of the ritualistic stages of sexual 
gratification. Waller and Marvell use the carpe diem argument to lure 
shy virgins into surrender; the Cavalier poets adopt a flippant court 
attitude toward women and pleasure. Carew's A Rapture turns 
Donne's ode to nakedness into a risque tour of Celia's nether parts. 
Libertines emerge in the late 17th century: Rochester, a Restoration 
wit, writes bluntly of raw couplings with ladies, whores, and boys. 
Milton's Lycidas revives the classical style of homoerotic pastoral 
lament. Paradise Lost, following Spenser and Donne, exalts "wedded 
Love" over the sterile wantonness of "Harlots" and "Court Amours" 

The Age of Reason, valuing self-control and witty detachment, 



favored satire over love poetry. Rousseau's delicate sentiment and 
pagan nature-worship created the fervent moods of "sensibility" and 
woman-revering Romanticism. Goethe, identifying femaleness with 
creativity, writes of happy sensual awakening in the Roman Elegies 
and jokes about sodomy with both sexes in the Venetian Epigrams, 
with its autocrotic acrobat, Bettina; withheld pornographic verses 
imitate ancient priapeia. Schiller dedicates rhapsodic love poems to 
Laura, but his hymns to womanhood sentimentally polarize the 
sexes. Holderlin addresses Diotima with generalized reverence and 
reserves his real feeling for Mother Earth. Blake calls for sexual 
freedom for women and for the end of guilt and shame. Burns com- 
poses rural Scottish ballads of bawdy or ill-starred love. Words- 
worth's Lucy poems imagine woman reabsorbed into roiling nature. 
In Christabel Coleridge stages a virgin's seduction by a lesbian vam- 
pire, nature's emissary. The younger English Romantics fuse poetry 
with free love. In Epipsychidion Shelley is ruled by celestial women 
radiating intellectual light. Keats makes emotion primary; his maid- 
ens sensuously feed and sleep or wildly dance dominion over knights 
and kings. Byron's persona as a "mad, bad" seducer has been revised 
by modern revelations about his bisexuality. In the "Thyrza" poems, 
he woos and changes the sex of a favorite Cambridge choirboy; in 
Don Juan, his blushing, girlish hero, forced into drag, catches the eye 
of a tempestuous lesbian sultana. Heine's love ballads are about 
squires, shepherd-boys, hussars, and fishermaidens; later verses re- 
cord erotic adventures of the famous poet wined and dined by lady 

French Romantics, turning art against nature in the hell of the 
modern city, make forbidden sex a central theme. Gautier celebrates 
the lonely, self-complete hermaphrodite. Baudelaire looses brazen 
whores upon syphilitic male martyrs; sex is torment, cursed by God. 
Baudelaire's heroic, defiant lesbians are hedonistically modernized 
by Verlaine and later rehellenized by Louys. In Femmes Verlaine 
uses vigorous street argot to describe the voluptuous sounds and 
smells of sex with women; in Hombres he lauds the brutal virility of 
young laborers, whom he possesses in their rough workclothes. He 
and Rimbaud co-wrote an ingenious sonnet about the anus. Mal- 
larme's leering faun embodies pagan eros; cold, virginal Herodias 
is woman as castrator. In contrast, Victorian poetry, as typified by 



the Brownings, exalts tenderness, fidelity, and devotion, the bonds 
of married love, preserved beyond the grave. Tennyson and the Pre- 
Raphaelites revive the medieval cult of idealized woman, supporting 
the Victorian view of woman's spirituality. Tennyson's heroines, like 
weary Mariana, love in mournful solitude. His Idylls retell Arthurian 
romance. In Memoriam, Tennyson's elaborate elegy for Hallam, is 
homoerotic in feeling. Rossetti's sirens are sultry, smoldering. Swin- 
burne, inspired by Baudelaire, reintroduces sexual frankness into 
highbrow English literature. His Dolores and Faustine are promis- 
cuous femmes fatales, immortal vampires; his Sappho, sadistically ca- 
ressing Anactoria, boldly proclaims her poetic greatness. Whitman 
broke taboos in American poetry: he names body parts and depicts 
sex surging through fertile nature; he savors the erotic beauties of 
both male and female. Though he endorses sexual action and energy, 
Whitman appears to have been mostly solitary, troubled by homo- 
sexual desires, suggested in the "Calamus" section of Leaves of Grass. 
Reflecting the Victorian taste for bereavement, Hardy's early poetry 
features gloomy provincial tales of love lost: ghosts, graveyards, 
suicides, tearful partings. Homoerotic Greek idealism and epicene 
fin-de-siecle preciosity characterize the poems of Symonds, Carpenter, 
Hopkins, Wilde, Symons, and Dowson. Renee Vivien, the first poet 
to advertise her lesbianism, writes only of languid, ethereal beauty. 

Love poetry of the twentieth century is the most varied and 
sexually explicit since classical antiquity. T. S. Eliot diagnoses the 
sexual sterility or passivity of modern man. Yet Neruda writes sear- 
ing odes to physical passion, boiling with ecstatic elemental imagery. 
D. H. Lawrence similarly roots the sex impulse in the seasonal cycles 
of the animal world. Recalling long-ago, one-night pickups of hand- 
some, athletic youths, Cavafy declares sex the creative source of his 
poetry. For Yeats, woman's haunting beauty is the heart of life's 
mystery; in "Leda and the Swan," rape is the metaphor for cata- 
clysmic historical change. Rilke contemplates the philosophical di- 
lemma of love, the pressure upon identity, the tension between fate 
and freedom. Valery makes language erotic: the poet is Narcissus 
and, in La Jeune Parque, the oracle raped by her own inner god. 
Eluard sees woman erotically metamorphosing through the world, 
permeating him with her supernatural force. Lorca imagines operatic 
scenes of heterosexual seduction, rape, or mutilation and in "Ode 



to Walt Whitman" denounces urban "pansies" for a visionary homo- 
sexuality grounded in living nature. Fascinated but repelled by strip- 
pers and whores, Hart Crane records squalid homosexual encounters 
in subway urinals. Amy Lowell vividly charts the works and days 
of a settled, sustaining lesbian relationship, while H. D. projects 
lesbian feeling into Greek personae, often male. Edna St. Vincent 
Millay is the first woman poet to claim a man's sexual freedom: her 
sassy, cynical lyrics of Jazz Age promiscuity with anonymous men 
are balanced by melancholy love poems to women. Auden blurred 
the genders in major poems to conceal their homosexual inspiration; 
his private verse is maliciously bawdy. William Carlos Williams is 
rare among modern poets in extolling married love and kitchen- 
centered domestic bliss. 

For Dylan Thomas, youth's sexual energies drive upward from 
moldering, evergreen earth. Theodore Roethke presents woman as 
unknowable Muse, ruling nature's ghostly breezes and oozy sexual 
matrix. Delmore Schwartz hails Marilyn Monroe as a new Venus, 
blessing and redeeming "a nation haunted by Puritanism." The free- 
living Beats, emulating black hipster talk, broke poetic decorum 
about sex. Adopting Whitman's chanting form and pansexual theme, 
Allen Ginsberg playfully celebrates sodomy and master-slave sce- 
narios. In "Marriage," Gregory Corso imagines the whole universe 
wedding and propagating, while he ages destitute and alone. The 
Confessional poets weave sex into autobiography. Robert Lowell lies 
on his marriage bed paralyzed, sedated, unmanned. Anne Sexton 
aggressively breaks the age-old taboo upon female speech by graph- 
ically exploring her own body in adultery and masturbation. Sylvia 
Plath launched contemporary feminist poetry with her sizzling ac- 
counts of modern marriage as hell. With its grisly mix of Nazi fantasy 
and Freudian family romance, "Daddy," after Yeats' "Leda," may 
be the love poem of the century. John Berryman's Sonnets records a 
passionate, adulterous affair with a new Laura, her platinum hair 
lit by the dashboard as they copulate in a car, the modern version 
of Dido's dark "cave." Love and Fame reviews Berryman's career as 
a "sexual athlete" specializing in quickie encounters. The sexual 
revolution of the 1960s heightened the new candor. Hippie poetry 
invokes Buddhist avatars for love's ecstasies. Denise Levertov and 
Carol Berge reverse tradition by salaciously detailing the hairy, mus- 



cular male body. Diane di Prima finds sharp, fierce imagery for the 
violent carnality of sex. Charles Bukowski writes of eroticism without 
illusions in a tough, gritty world of scrappy women, drunks, room- 
inghouses, and racetracks. Mark Strand mythically sees man help- 
lessly passed from mother to wife to daughter: "I am the toy of 

The 1960s also freed gay poetry from both underground and 
coterie. James Merrill, remembering mature love or youthful crisis, 
makes precise, discreet notations of dramatic place and time. Paul 
Goodman, Robert Duncan, Frank O'Hara, Thorn Gunn, Harold 
Norse, and Mutsuo Takahashi intricately document the mechanics 
of homosexual contact for the first time since Imperial Rome: cruis- 
ing, hustlers, sailors, bodybuilders, bikers, leather bars, bus termi- 
nals, toilets, glory holes. Gay male poetry is about energy, adventure, 
quest, danger, beauty and pleasure amidst secrecy, shame, and pain. 
Lesbian poetry, in contrast, prefers tender, committed relationships 
and often burdens itself with moralistic political messages. Adrienne 
Rich and Judy Grahn describe intimate lesbian sex and express 
solidarity with victimized women of all social classes; Audre Lorde 
invokes African myths to enlarge female identity. Olga Broumas, 
linking dreamy sensation to Greek sun and sea, has produced the 
most artistically erotic lesbian lyrics. Eleanor Lerman's Armed Love, 
with its intellectual force and hallucinatory sexual ambiguities, re- 
mains the leading achievement of modern lesbian poetry, recapit- 
ulating the tormented history of Western love from Sappho and 
Catullus to Baudelaire. 



The two deepest thinkers on sex in the twentieth century are 
Sigmund Freud and D. H. Lawrence. Their reputations as radical 
liberators were so universally acknowledged that brooding images 
of Freud and Lawrence in poster form adorned the walls of students 
in the Sixties. Yet the voluminous and complex works of both men 
were swept away by the current women's movement, when it burst 
out in the late Sixties and consolidated its ideology in the Seventies. 
Whatever their motives, the first feminist theorists acted as vandals 
and Bolsheviks. The damage they did to culture has in the long run 
damaged the cause of feminism. 

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, a diluted and censored 
version of Freud began to dribble back into academic feminism from 
two directions, one French Lacanian and the other American psy- 
chiatric, but it remains the case that very little Freud. is directly read 
in women's studies and that a majority of feminists, in and out of 
academe, are hostile to Freud and refer to him with cheap derision. 
The situation with Lawrence is even more extreme. As far as wom- 
en's studies is concerned, he has ceased to exist. A horde of minor, 
politically correct women writers has replaced him in the curriculum. 

Many of our most talented women students are graduating from 
college without having read not only Freud and Lawrence but other 




major figures like Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, and Norman 
Mailer. An embarrassed student recently asked me hesitantly 
whether I permitted papers to be submitted on Hemingway. When 
I enthusiastically assented, she said she had hidden her interest in 
Hemingway for years and that close friends at once-distinguished 
Vassar College were viciously negative about him — without, of 
course, ever having read him. This is scandalous. Hemingway vir- 
tually invented modern American prose, the lingua franca of jour- 
nalism; his style develops and strengthens you as a writer. What 
have we done to young women in the name of feminism? 

In my original projection, the first volume of Sexual Personae was 
to end with Lawrence and Woolf. The latter material was contained 
in a mammoth 160-page seminar paper, "Male and Female in Vir- 
ginia Woolf," which I obsessively produced for my last graduate 
seminar at Yale in 1970. But the Woolf boom in feminism happened 
shortly afterward and sent many a Woolf admirer running for the 
hills. As for Lawrence, the abundant Anglo-American literary crit- 
icism on his work was already excellent. There was no need for the 
kind of sexual rescue operation that I eventually performed, for 
example, on the admired but defanged Emily Dickinson. 

Times have changed. Twenty-five years later, theory has sup- 
planted literature, and criticism has degenerated into moralistic text- 
trashing. Those who love Lawrence, or any of the other ritually 
abused dead white males, must speak. I will focus here on Women 
in Love (1920), one of my book of books and a key to my sensibility. 
When I first read it in 1969, it seemed thin, tinny, strange, but it 
began to work on me subtly and became a profound influence on 
my thinking as I was designing Sexual Personae. 

The most startling effect was that Women in Love collapsed in 
my mind with Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590), which I 
was studying at the time and which was suffering from a grotesquely 
sanctimonious criticism of paralyzing dullness. Two authors more 
apparently dissimilar than Spenser and Lawrence could scarcely be 
imagined. But the representational style and sexual vision of their 
major works seemed parallel to me. Iconography and epiphany: In 
Women in Love, as in The Faerie Queene, aggressive, highly ornamented 
personalities burst on the eye in quick passages of ritual combat. 
Sex seems to ebb and flow in manic peaks and velvety lows of sadism 



and masochism, an oscillation of violent energy and torpid self- 

Women in Love, with its poetic language, mythic archetypes, and 
eerie occultism, is more a Romantic than a modernist or realist novel. 
Its theme is both nature and culture — the primal Dionysian forces 
within us and the rational Apollonian structures we have devised 
against our chaos. Each principle is shown moving toward its point 
of excess: the Dionysian spinning into barbarism and the Apollonian 
hardening into fascism. 

Partly because of his proletarian roots, Lawrence is hypersen- 
sitive to social class and documents working-class experience without 
sentimentalizing it. Contemptuous of bourgeois niceties, he is con- 
scious of his complicity, as a writer, with middle-class experience. 
Wealth and aristocracy appear in his work as artifice and manner- 
ism, a glamourous imprisonment of mind and body. Hermione 
Roddice, the eccentric, somnambulistic socialite based on Lady 
Ottoline Morrell, is his most extravagant example of class as burden 
and destiny. 

Women in Love analyzes industrial capitalism with harsh Blakean 
metaphors that dissolve the psychological into the economic. Greed 
and lust fuse, as in The Faerie Queene's catalog of deranged appetites. 
A coal magnate, Gerald Crich, is Lawrence's incarnation of the 
European will to power; he is an idolator of the machine and of a 
rapacious phallicism. Exploitation is dissected as a dynamic of com- 
pulsive, self-consuming desire. The novel contains a far subtler and 
more revolutionary critique of Western sexuality than anything in 
academic feminism or poststructuralism. Rupert Birkin, its brood- 
ing, author-identified protagonist, is a nonconforming male, pale 
and sensitive, who seeks sensory modes of knowledge outside the 
iron frame of the West's imperialistic abstractions. 

Lawrence sees the social spectacle with more completeness than 
do the usual glum puritans of the Marxist school. Only Arnold 
Hauser, in his vast Marxist masterwork, The Social History of Art, has 
integrated aesthetic values with class analysis as successfully as Law- 
rence in Women in Love. Fashion here is as signficant as economics. 
Body language, costume, speech, artistic tastes: for Lawrence, cul- 
ture is a public theater of symbolic action. 

In Women in Love, anthropology is a subset to zoology. Lawrence's 


33 1 

radical new perspective introduces to the genre of the social novel 
Sadean and Darwinian perceptions about the continuum of human- 
ity with the animal world. In her lavish getups of velvets and feathers, 
Hermione seems like a gigantic partridge on the prowl. The Brang- 
wen sisters' yellow, rose, and emerald-green stockings are emblem- 
atic, in the Spenserian sense, and also sexually coded, the paradings 
of provocative mating display, appreciatively registered by men in 
the street. For Lawrence, society is a carnival of the animals. Instinct 
drives us in ways philosophy fails to acknowledge and science still 
cannot fully explain. 

Women in Love is structured by a series of close encounters with 
animals, objects, persons, even plants. There are chattering canaries, 
a drowsy lap dog, a bullying tomcat, a terrified, rearing horse, and 
a "great lusty rabbit'' who, "magically strong," goes wild in Gud- 
run's grasp. In a brilliantly original scene, bizarre, impressive, and 
ludicrous all at once, Gudrun taunts a herd of long-horned cattle 
with "palpitating" eurhythmic exercises, avant-garde and yet ar- 
chaic, a modern bull-dancing. 1 

Goaded beyond endurance by Birkin's officious preaching, Her- 
mione smashes at his skull with an oppressively vivid lapis lazuli 
paperweight, the blows falling with hypnotic slowness. Fleeing to 
the woods, Birkin purifies himself by rolling naked in the wet grass 
and stinging his flesh with sharp boughs and needles. The tactile 
sensuality of his ravishing embrace of vegetable nature is rivaled in 
Romantic literature only by cardinal passages in Keats, Whitman, 
and Christina Rossetti. Like Rousseau, Birkin escapes from mankind 
to wed himself to his origins. 

Later, the emotion is reversed: rebelling against the omnipotence 
of woman, symbolized by the Magna Mater, Birkin crazily attacks 
and shatters the moon's reflection in a pond. But the "heaving, 
rocking, dancing" fragments magnetically rejoin; the "luminous 
polyp," with its "arms of fire," inexorably recovers and triumphs, 
mocking man's pretensions and conceit. 2 Lawrence's precursors in 
the dazzling execution of this savage scene, with its uncanny lu- 
minescence and dark psychic turbulence, are Coleridge and Melville, 
visionaries of uncontrollable nature. 

While the close encounters of Women in Love are all highly rit- 
ualistic, those with objets d'art are overtly cultic. The novel has 



three sculptures, each representing a major region of the world. The 
first, a wood-carving from the West Pacific, is of a naked woman 
crouching in the agonies of childbirth. The "transfixed, rudimen- 
tary" face suggests "the extreme of physical sensation beyond the 
limits of mental consciousness. " In the chapter called "Totem," 
Birkin defends the statue to a "shocked, resentful" Gerald, who 
denies it can be art. 3 This is the period when Picasso's generation 
of artists in Paris was being influenced by non-Western tribal arti- 

The second sculpture is a "tall, slim, elegant figure from West 
Africa in dark wood, glossy and suave." Contemplating its "crushed 
tiny" face and heavy "protuberant buttocks," Birkin realizes that 
there are "great mysteries to be unsealed," expressing something 
"far beyond any phallic knowledge, sensual subtle realities far be- 
yond the scope of phallic investigation." 4 Lawrence sees the human 
body in holistic or yogic terms: energy is released or blocked by 
cultural assumptions. Each organ or muscle group has symbolic 
corollaries and is a source of special insight. Women in Love, in a 
manner too easily ridiculed, is full of lush references to "loins," the 
complex pelvic area that Lawrence rightly sees as withered and 
demeaned in the West. 

The third sculpture, a bronze statuette by a cynical, troll-like 
Austrian artist, is of a small, naked adolescent girl perched on a 
massive, "rigid," straining stallion, her legs dangling "pathetically" 
and "childishly." 5 Whereas the Oceanic and African sculptures show 
woman sacred and solitary, paradoxically dominating through her 
passive experience of brute nature, the European art work is pred- 
icated on a misunderstanding of sexual physics. Masochistically de- 
pendent, the woman has surrendered her mythological power to the 
male, who becomes a tyrannous phallic fetish. Lawrence is sug- 
gesting that when woman rejects her special intimacy with natural 
process, she trivializes and diminishes herself and guarantees male 
hegemony. This difficult lesson has yet to be learned by contem- 
porary feminism. 

Lawrence's use of the close-encounter format in Women in Love 
is almost masquelike, as in the episodic vignettes of The Faerie Queene. 
The plot is literally a process of looking for meaning, as life offers 
random experiences and frustrations. Things appear and disappear, 



after highly charged confrontations and conflicts. Momentary rev- 
elations explode at Lawrence's characters in ways their Western 
mental categories can't quite contain or order. The effect is almost 
elemental, like squalls, cloudbursts. Indeed, the baffling frenzy of 
the rabbit is described as a "black-and-white tempest," a "thun- 
derstorm." 6 

One of Lawrence's major insights, a basic principle of Hinduism 
and Zen Buddhism, is that words cannot possibly correspond to or 
fully convey ultimate truths about life or the universe. By rhythmic 
repetition, surreal imagery, and heightened, operatic phrasings, 
Lawrence uses language to break through language in ways far 
beyond French poststructuralism, with its bourgeois pendantry and 
preciosity. The characters of Women in Love struggle toward under- 
standing, their rational and verbal resources overwhelmed by the 
influx of unsorted sensory data and by eruptions of amoral uncon- 
scious impulses. 

"Water-Party," a chapter that is nearly a self-contained Noh 
play, stunningly illustrates Lawrence's technique of illumination 
through disintegration. As darkness falls, strings of paper lanterns, 
like "ruddy creatures of fire," hover on boats over the lake. The 
scene is exquisitely beautiful. Birkin, with his usual mix of the or- 
acular and the pompous, is discoursing to Ursula Brangwen about 
"the silver river of life" versus "the black river" of dissolution, "our 
real reality": Aphrodite represents not just love and sex but "the 
flowing mystery of the death-process." Myths are alive, changing 
as we change. 

As Birkin and Gerald warily court Ursula and Gudrun, the 
tranquil mood of tingling erotic expectancy is suddenly shattered by 
"a confusion of shouting" and churning water across the lake. What 
has happened? To whom? How? Fear, helplessness, uncertainty, as 
the lovers, rushing to help, seem as frail as the glowing lanterns. 
Through the darkness come snatches of broken speech and a girl's 
shriek, almost like a stammer: "Di — Di — Di — Di!" Gerald's teen- 
aged sister Diana, heedlessly dancing on the roof of a party cruiser, 
has gone into the water; her rescuer, a young doctor, has not re- 

Shortly afterward, numbed by futile dives into the icy water, 
Gerald sits "black and motionless," "his head blunt and blind like 



a seal's, his whole appearance inhuman, unknowing." He is defeated. 
Even the most imperious will is rebuffed by material limitation. The 
unknown world is always greater than the known. The entire episode 
is a paradigm of the novel as a whole, which endorses descents to 
levels of experience too remote for articulation. Beyond the heaving 
foreground of human agitation stretches the infuriating calmness of 
nature, blank and indifferent. 

The lake's sluice-gate is opened; all night the "terrible crushing 
boom" of the water goes on, like the roar Wordsworth hears above 
the clouds on Mount Snowdon. Near dawn, the bodies are found: 
"Diana had her arms tight round the neck of the young man, choking 
him. 'She killed him,' said Gerald." Such refusal to sentimentalize 
is one of the most startling qualities of Women in Love. Birkin too 
says, even before the lake is drained, "What does it matter if Diana 
Crich is alive or dead?" 7 Gudrun is shocked, but Birkin's curtness 
is a philosophical detachment like Mrs. Moore's stern withdrawal 
in Forster's A Passage to India, where Western and Far Eastern con- 
ceptual categories clash after a mysterious occurrence in the heart 
of nature. 

Like Freud, Lawrence strips away the false frills of Victorianism, 
the lugubrious pieties of institutionalized humanitarianism, which 
have sprung to renewed life in our own time. Because he has no 
illusions about our innate altruism, Lawrence is a keen analyst of 
criminality, which, again like Freud, he sees simmering in all ap- 
parently civilized people. In a typical conversation in Women in Love, 
jolts and surges of hostility and aggression go on just beneath the 
surface. The subtext is far more primitive than in Henry James, 
since Lawrence has taken our unruly carnality into the purview of 
his fiction. Sexual attraction is shown as an unstable complex of 
love-hate, a war for individuality and survival. 

Lawrence's descriptions of criminal violence arising out of or- 
dinary events — sex-tinged attempted murders by Hermione and 
Gerald — are chilling and compelling, in the tradition of Poe and 
Dostoyevsky. They were pivotal to my understanding of the psy- 
chopathology of rape, which mainstream feminism has reduced to 
naive, simplistic formulas. A superb example of Lawrence's com- 
mand of the subliminal is the rabbit scene, where Gudrun's arm is 
scratched: seeing the "deep red score down the silken white flesh," 



"the long red rent of her forearm," Gerald absorbs the wound in 
erotic terms, as in the dream process or the metaphor-making poetic 
mind. 8 Lawrence constantly shows the mutuality and complicity of 
sexual response on the nonverbal level — precisely what is missing 
from the current clumsy date-rape discourse. 

Though he has a reputation as a misogynist, Lawrence's picture 
of modern sexual relations is highly accurate. Like Blake, he shows 
the difficulty of heterosexuality, the anxieties men suffer as they try 
to escape the shadow of their mothers, who rule their lives in ways 
most feminists fail to see. To what degree should men obey or defy 
women? How far can a man develop himself emotionally before 
losing the respect of other men? What is masculinity for middle- 
class men divorced from the daily labor of their forefathers? How 
much of sexual desire comes from nature, how much from culture? 
Who is our ideal mate? Should love challenge us or put our questions 
to sleep? 

The episode in which Gerald, haunted by the ugly death of his 
ailing father, tramps through muddy fields to invade Gudrun's bed- 
chamber should be basic reading for every student of sex. Yearning, 
coercion, and lust intermingle, as in life itself. What do men want 
from women? It's all here. Gerald's convulsive orgasm exorcises his 
anguish and tension — but at the cost of infantilization. Ironically, 
his phallicism makes woman a goddess and him a "child." 9 

Lawrence shows the unstable dynamic in heterosexuality, which 
swings man from conqueror to slave in the drama of arousal. Sat- 
isfied, Gerald sinks into delicious, healing sleep, like an infant "at 
its mother's breast," but Gudrun "lay wide awake, destroyed into 
perfect consciousness" — one of the novel's most terrible moments. 
It is a brutal modern version of Botticelli's Venus and Mars, borrowed 
by Spenser for a pornographic vampire scene of The Faerie Queene. 
Spenser, Blake, and Lawrence all show fallen sexuality as a cruel 
cycle of dominance and submission, where male power and male 
neediness are identical and where woman drinks man's energy as 
he spills it. 

Throughout Women in Love, an unmistakable emotional and sex- 
ual attraction crackles between bookish Birkin and macho blonde 
Gerald. In the chapter called "Gladiatorial," the two lock themselves 
in a room and wrestle in the nude, their bodies amorously inter- 



twined, till one collapses half-conscious on the other. They clasp 
hands, compliment each other's physical "beauty, " and share a 
whiskey and soda. 

We are in a period where homoeroticism of this kind is auto- 
matically interpreted as homosexuality, which I think is wrong. 
Birkin seeks "Bruderschajl," blood-brotherhood with a male, a desire 
so significant that Lawrence ends the novel with it. After Gerald is 
found frozen to death in the snow (an Apollonian ice-sculpture, the 
novel's fourth objet d'art), Birkin tells Ursula that she is "all women" 
to him, his eternal mate, but he wanted "eternal union with a man 
too." Ursula, piqued, insists he can't have "two kinds of love." 10 
Like A Passage to India, the novel ends with union between men 

Despite the bisexual implications in Women in Love, I am skeptical 
about whether Lawrence would endorse full sexual relations between 
men. Surely, erections are missing from the wrestling episode, as 
part of the novel's questioning of phallicism. Western athleticism, 
which still overwhelmingly centers on the pitting of male against 
male, may be a structured positioning of homoeroticism in culture. 
That is, it is not a concealed or displaced homosexuality; instead, 
homosexuality may be a ritualized compromise for a Bruderschqft not 
otherwise obtainable. Though both The Rainbow and Women in Love 
(its sequel) explicitly address male fear of woman, Lawrence suggests 
that woman must be dealt with in all her natural power. Those who 
do less have narrowed their vision. 

Lawrence was writing at a sea-change in sexual history. Gudrun 
Brangwen is a new kind of woman, confrontational and demanding; 
her speech is nervy, abrupt, and exclamatory. Seventy-five years 
later, it still sounds fresh and contemporary. The slow, majestic 
Hermione Roddice, with her aesthetical ambitions, remains the 
grand lady, bridging the period between Henry James and Blooms- 
bury. Virginia Woolf, for example, despite her feminist ideals, pro- 
jected a public persona closer to Hermione than to Gudrun. As a 
woman, Gudrun shatters tradition and decorum; exuding aggressive 
sexual energy, she wields her sarcasm like a weapon. 

When I first read Women in Love, I was drawn to Gudrun and 
resented the way Lawrence treats her as a foil to Ursula, whose 
serene, patient, self-effacing motherliness toward men seemed like 



everything my generation was rebelling against. Over time, however, 
the enduring truth in the contrast of sisters became clear. I used to 
be troubled by Lawrence's belittling remarks about feminists, whom 
his collected works portray as shrill, humorless, and desexed. 

I now realize that Lawrence was accurately recording the fa- 
naticism of a political movement in its late phase. The major thrust 
of nineteenth-century feminism was winning women the right to vote, 
which was achieved, in nation after nation in Europe and North 
America, in the early twentieth century. But major innovations, 
including the birth of artistic modernism, psychoanalysis, and Hol- 
lywood, were also changing attitudes and behavior and, in fact, 
overtook feminism and passed it. The sexual revolution of the Twen- 
ties was not produced by feminism. On the contrary, aside from 
Margaret Sanger's controversial birth-control movement (coura- 
geously supported by Katharine Hepburn's parents), too much fem- 
inist energy was diverted to moral-welfare causes such as the drive 
to ban liquor and prostitution. Fourteen years of Prohibition, and 
the spread of organized crime, were the result. 

Lawrence's caricatures of feminists seem realistic again, since 
the current reborn women's movement similarly veered toward fa- 
naticism, not just among the anti-pornography and anti-beauty ideo- 
logues (today's Carry Nations) but among mainstream activists 
whose obsession with feminist rhetoric has supplanted all larger 
philosophical or cultural concerns. I now recognize in the dissatis- 
fied, word-obsessed Gudrun Brangwen the bright, perfect, brittle, 
overcontrolled women careerists of the legal, corporate, and aca- 
demic worlds who have risen to prominence in the last twenty years 
and who coolly schedule their delayed pregnancies and professional 
childcare by time clock. Their destined mate is Gerald Crich, the 
ultimate capitalist manager, patron of the body reduced to a ma- 

At a time when gender theory follows either strict social con- 
structionism or a sentimental cult of benevolent nature, Lawrence's 
insights are of utmost importance. He sees humanity as unevolved, 
our ideals in daily conflict with animal urges we wrongly ignore or 
denigrate. Inspired by Frazer's epic prose-poem, The Golden Bough, 
Lawrence wants to recover our sense of primal mysteries, long lost 
in the West. He protests against the tyranny of abstractions, a prod- 



uct not only of reactionary institutions but of bourgeois liberal ide- 

Lawrence's importance for the Sixties was not just as a prophet 
of sex but as an expander of consciousness. For him, love in the 
Western sense is not enough; he would reject today's idolatry of 
"relationships" as parochial and limiting. As a Romantic, he exalts 
profound understanding over politics. In Women in Love, modern 
personalities clash in the new arena of sex, their words splintering 
and smashing like the lances of Spenser's knights. At the end of the 
century, the sexes are still at war. But there is a dawning sense that 
we must look back to nature to find out who we are. 

1. Women in Love (New York, 1960), pp. 232, 159. 

2. Pp. 239-40. 

3. Pp. 67, 71. 

4. P. 45. 

5. Pp. 419-20. 

6. P. 232. 

7. Pp. 164, 181, 177. 

8. Pp. 234-35. 

9. Pp. 337-38. 
10. Pp. 472-73. 


One of the most influential books of my career was Kenneth 
Clark's The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. Published in 1956, it was an 
expanded version of the six A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts 
that Clark gave three years earlier at the National Gallery of Art in 
Washington, D.C. 

My paperback edition of The Nude, small and compact as a 
breviary and tinted a cool blue-gray, is inscribed "1971." It was my 
third year of graduate school at Yale, and I was in the process of 
writing my doctoral dissertation, called Sexual Personae. I was scour- 
ing the great collections of Sterling Library, looking for ways to 
break through the academic disciplines, which had become too nar- 
row and restricting. Revolutionary synthesis was needed. 

The Nude came into my hands at a time when the most shrewdly 
ambitious graduate students were drifting toward Paul de Man, 
Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault, all of whom struck me as colossally 
uninteresting. In this, his greatest book by far, Kenneth Clark shows 
the broad learning, cultivation, emotional engagement, and passion 
for detail that are completely missing from the muddy maze-makers 
of soggy, foggy poststructuralism. 

[Times Higher Education Supplement, London, December 10, 1993] 




Boldly crossing 2,500 years of Western art, Clark assimilates 
and reorganizes an astounding wealth of material about the repre- 
sentation of the male and female figure. He avoids the convenient 
format of strict chronology and creates, in the core of the book, 
a brilliant series of meditations: "Apollo," "Venus," "Energy," 
"Pathos," "Ecstasy." 

The Nude teaches us how to see. Anyone who has studied its 298 
ravishing illustrations and been guided by Clark's elegant, nuanced 
prose will be blessedly impervious to current feminist cant about 
"the male gaze" — that puritanical superstition cooked up by ideo- 
logues with no instinct for art. Clark's interpretative style is simul- 
taneously deeply sensual and crisply intellectual. Few scholarly 
books have so successfully combined seduction and instruction. 

Clark's categories of the Crystalline and Vegetable Aphrodites, 
partly inspired by Plato, impressed me immediately, and I used 
them to analyze everything from Spenser's Faerie Queene to Holly- 
wood movie queens. Body type and personality are naturally and 
theatrically related, though you would never know it from today's 
slag-heaps of bombastic, Foucault-inspired rubbish that predicate 
the body as passive to a lumpish something called "power." 

Like Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, The Nude melts 
the images and objects of culture into a strange, majestic dream, an 
epic landscape of the mind. The ancient and archaic come alive, or 
rather they prove they were never dead. In sharp, striking phrases, 
Clark reanimates academic discourse: the Venus de Milo is like "an 
elm tree in a field of corn"; the hand of Ingres's Thetis is "half 
octopus, half tropical flower"; Michelangelo's nude Sistine youths 
are "high-strung to the point of hysteria." 

If ever I was in love with a book, it was with this one. The Nude 
taught me how to lure and jab, refine and condense, dispatch and 
recall. It has its weaknesses, notably in Asian and abstract art. But 
Kenneth Clark's masterwork is a monumental achievement, mar- 
rying connoisscurship to historicism. 


The Modern Review faxed Camille Paglia to ask whether she had anything 
to say on the subject of revivals. 

Thank you for your inquiry about ' Revivals" in cultural history. 
It is certainly revealing about the sorry state of Anglo-American 
intellectual life that this question — one of the most interesting yet 
posed to me since the publication four years ago of Sexual Personae — 
has issued not from any university faculty or scholarly journal but 
from The Modern Review. 

Today's trendy theorists, with their jargon-infested, choke-a- 
horse style, are incapable of dealing with this issue, since they have 
foolishly committed their careers to the passe poststructuralist hy- 
pothesis that history is fragmented and meaningless and knowledge 
futile. The last major work animated by that idea was Waiting for 
Godot, by Foucault's idol, Samuel Beckett, who no longer speaks for 
anyone but morose somnambules like Susan Sontag. Since Godot, 
popular culture has exploded onto the world stage and, by its titanic 
assertions and vulgar vitality, shattered all the effete, elitist as- 
sumptions of literary modernism. 

[The Modern Review, London, March 1994] 




From childhood, when I became obsessed with the twin pagan 
phenomena of Hollywood and ancient Egypt, I have been passion- 
ately convinced of the continuity of Western civilization, which rises 
and falls with strange, haunting regularity. Recovery and revival 
seem built into our mental system. In "Junk Bonds and Corporate 
Raiders," I rejected the currently fashionable faith in the relativity 
and therefore nullity of value judgments in canon-formation: "The 
mythic pattern of Western culture is Greek revival: again and again, 
objects are lost and refound, overvalued, devalued, then revalued. 
But the classics always remain." Our rich popular culture, with 
its speeded-up revivals, has simply inherited the deep structure of 

Throughout the sterile era of French theory, I clung to my belief 
in the great narratives of cultural history and the periodicity and 
organicism of artistic style. My influences here were, first, Vico, 
Spengler, and Yeats, whose vision of cataclysmic 2,000-year cycles 
was drawn from pagan astrology, of which I was a Sixties convert. 
Second, Mircea Eliade, who examined the motif of recurrence, or 
the "eternal return," in world religion. 

Third, Heinrich Wolfflin, whose analysis of early, high, and late 
styles in painting beautifully applied, I immediately saw, to the 
career of the Beatles, from the rough vigor of "Boys" and "Chains," 
through the shapely perfection of "Day Tripper" and "Ticket to 
Ride," to the disintegrating sophistication of the studio-bound Sgt. 
Pepper and "White Album." At the end of that tripartite pattern, 
major artists revolt, resimplify, and return to the start, as we see 
with Donatello and Picasso, as with John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and 
David Bowie. We are all waiting, with some impatience, for Ma- 
donna to get around to this. Ever since she shucked her brash, 
streetwise, disco-tart persona, out of which she made her best mu- 
sic, her career has been built entirely on revivals, from Monroe to 

Postmodernism's mingy synthetic substitute for revival is "ap- 
propriation," which usually means an artist of limited talent jum- 
bling together, without insight, ironic references to great works of 
the past. I despise it, since I admire grandeur and expressiveness, 
whether in Bernini's revival of imperial Roman style; the marmoreal, 
neoclassic Federal architecture of Washington, D.C.; the ersatz Ox- 



bridge Gothic spires of Yale; or Great Britain's extraordinary blues 
revival of the Sixties, which brought back to American shores, via 
the Rolling Stones, a raised consciousness about our black musical 

Appropriation and pastiche are misconceived notions, promul- 
gated by English-department drones with no sense of history. In 
point of fact, we belong to an Alexandrian age of syncretism, in 
which multicultural allusions fuse to make eccentric new wholes. I 
call our time decadent — but in Sexual Personae I argued that deca- 
dence is a complex historical mode, a thrilling, sensationalistic late 
phase of culture dominated by themes of sex and violence. In deca- 
dence, the major revival is of the primitive, which is juxtaposed with 
the supersophisticated. We see this pattern in Nero's cruel banquets, 
in Swinburne's poetry, and in the recent popularity of sadomaso- 
chistic regalia and tribal body-piercing. "Archaizing" — a term used 
by scholars of classical art — is infinitely preferable to the snide, 
competitive, destructive "appropriation." Archaizing is still rever- 
ent; it stitches the present to the past; it says nothing is ever lost. 

Popular culture is a splendid laboratory to study the artistic 
dynamics of revival. Paradoxically, it forces a reassessment of high 
culture at a moment when we are crushing the heads of the serpents 
of theory. To consider influence and tradition brings one back to 
the canon, which is simply the body of work that other artists — not 
just critics and professors — consider the touchstone for creation and 
innovation. When Lenny Kravitz does his florid homage to the bril- 
liant Jimi Hendrix, we see canon-formation in action, which all the 
gripes of generic Nineties grunge bands cannot stop. Revival means 
the dawning recognition of a timeless element in a work or style that 
seemed dated, confined to, and limited by a particular period. There- 
fore revival is crucial to the process of defining greatness in art, a 
responsibility shirked by too many of the lightweight luminaries of 
current academe. 


When I was in junior high school, Women's Day magazine, to 
which my mother subscribed, published a satirical memoir of a 
woman's disconcerting chance encounters with several famous peo- 
ple. My favorite was her adventure in a ladies room with Tallulah 
Bankhead, who mistook her for an old friend and delivered a long 
monologue from inside the toilet stall. A cartoon showed a fur-clad 
Tallulah hanging over the saloonlike swinging door and gesturing 
languidly at the stunned but fascinated writer, who never did get a 
word in edgewise. 

I guess Susan Sontag is my Tallulah. The paperback edition of 
Sontag's first essay collection, Against Interpretation, appeared in 1967, 
while I was in college. It was among a dozen books that defined the 
cultural moment and seemed to herald a dawning age of revolu- 
tionary achievement, by students of the Sixties as well as by Sontag 
herself. Unfortunately, things did not turn out that way, and we're 
still trying to figure out why. Sixties thinkers lacked staying power. 
Like the Romantics, they seemed to spend themselves with their 
early efforts. 

Against Interpretation was the high point of Sontag's reputation. 
Its importance at the time was its constellation of subjects: literature, 
film, theater, philosophy, anthropology; the artistic avant-garde 



(happenings); the sexual avant-garde (camp, drag). Son tag was 
learned yet anti-academic. Her essays, accessible to an educated 
general audience, helped to break the stranglehold that the over- 
professionalized universities had on "serious" thought in America. 
The glamourous dust-jacket photo imprinted Sontag's sexual per- 
sona as a new kind of woman writer so indelibly on the mind that 
the image still lingers, wraithlike, and makes criticism of her very 
difficult. She was the dream date of bookish men and the chic 
Deirdre-of-the-Sorrows alter ego of educated but genteel, white, 
middle-class women, the latter of whom emerged as and remain 
(surely not to her satisfaction) her primary audience. 

I admired Against Interpretation for three reasons. First, it dis- 
solved the disciplines in a way that was crucial for the future of 
intellectual life in America. As a college student, I fiercely opposed 
the rigid departmentalization and overspecialization of academe. 
Since she had been pursuing graduate work in philosophy and com- 
parative religion, I expected Sontag would soon turn her attention 
to the American university and use her sophisticated rhetorical skills 
against it. But when her dissertation did not materialize, she drifted 
from academe and affected snobbish scorn for it without trying to 
change it. 

As happened to the scintillating Germaine Greer, Sontag's sep- 
aration from the university weakened her work over the long haul. 
The discipline of academic scholarship can kill and deaden but also 
refine and strengthen major talents of Greer's and Sontag's dimen- 
sion. Harold Bloom scribbled in the margin of a draft of my disser- 
tation in 1971, "Mere Sontagisme!" It saddened me, but I knew 
Bloom was right. Sontag, who should have been Jane Harrison's 
successor as a supreme woman scholar, had become synonymous 
with a shallow kind of hip posturing. 

Reexamining Sontag's work for passages to cite in my disser- 
tation, I was dismayed and frustrated. There was a line-by-line 
evasiveness in the same essays that had seemed so stimulating in 
college. I found no argument, only collage. Many of the generali- 
zations or rapid-fire summaries now seemed, on the basis of my 
further study, questionable. Sontag seemed more and more a literary 
journalist rather than a philosopher or intellectual. But this was a 
period when first-person journalism was a performance art: I was 



avidly following the media adventures of Norman Mailer, Gore 
Vidal, and Jill Johnston. 

The second reason I admired Against Interpretation in college was 
its frank interest in popular culture, with which I had been obsessed 
since childhood. I had never made the slightest distinction of value 
between the brilliant images of classical art and archaeology and 
those of Hollywood, television, advertisements, and pop music. What 
I thought I saw in Sontag was a fellow pop devotee, someone equally 
determined to smash the false dichotomy between high and low art. 
Sontag's "The Imagination of Disaster," a deep-structure analysis 
of science-fiction films, remains one of the best things ever written 
about popular culture. It is required reading in my "Mass Media" 
courses. This lucid, funny, ingenious piece should have started an 
entire school of pop criticism. Alas, academic commentary on pop- 
ular culture lurched in another direction and ended up deep in the 
postmodernist morass. It is surprisingly difficult to find lively, ac- 
cessible, jargon-free readings in popular culture to assign to under- 
graduates. "The Imagination of Disaster," in content and form, is 
an excellent model for speculative student essays. 

Unfortunately, Sontag herself abandoned what she had started. 
Defending pop culture was highly controversial at that time. One 
could not be taken seriously as a thinker if one's remarks jumped 
so easily into hot copy in the glossy magazines. Sontag buckled under 
the abuse. She began to distance herself not only from pop but from 
American culture itself. Saturnine European writers — mostly 
male — soon dominated her work. Sontag made herself the hand- 
maiden of esoteric theory. At first her championing of Roland 
Barthes kept her ahead of academe, then in the doldrums of late 
New Criticism. But poststructuralist theory became a global industry 
in the Seventies and made Sontag irrelevant. Her career as a cutting- 
edge commentator and tastemaker has never recovered. 

Sontag's calculated veering away from popular culture is my 
gravest charge against her. When in a 1988 profile in Time magazine, 
she denied she had ever been that interested in pop ("It isn't as if 
I wrote an essay on the Supremes") and boasted that she did not 
even own a television set, I was appalled and disgusted. 1 Not having 
a TV is tantamount to saying, "I know nothing of the time or country 
in which I live." Television is America, and year by year it is be- 



coming the world. Sontag's betrayal of pop, to one who has never 
lost the faith, is unforgivable, since as a graduate student and young 
teacher, I shoved my pop acolytism down people's throats and took 
the career hit for it. 

The third reason I admired Against Interpretation was simply for 
its public theater, its thrilling debut of an au courant woman intel- 
lectual. As an adolescent, I had fixed on Dorothy Parker and Mary 
McCarthy as the only available female role models in the literary 
life. I loved their tough realism, bare-knuckles pugnacity, and witty 
malice. Like my idols Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, they 
had the feminist freedom and adventurous cosmopolitanism of the 
Thirties. Women in the placid, boy-chasing Debbie Reynolds/San- 
dra Dee era seemed bland and timorous. As for Simone de Beauvoir, 
whom I admired enormously after reading The Second Sex in 1963, 
her rigorous intellectuality did not allow for humor or the irrational, 
and her world was sternly pre-pop. With Against Interpretation, Sontag 
revived and modernized the woman of letters. 

The Romantic ideals of individualism and freedom that inspired 
Sixties political protest also energized women to take their place on 
the cultural stage. When the women's movement became a national 
force late in the decade, that individualism began to be redefined in 
narrowly feminist terms. Here is where Sontag, as the nation's pre- 
miere woman intellectual, could and should have played a leading 
role. In 1972 she wrote a sensible article on women and aging that 
implicitly acknowledged the new feminist agenda but then pulled 
back, perhaps because of a mandarin disdain for the increasing 
vulgarity and (as she put it in a withering 1975 exchange with 
Adrienne Rich) "anti-intellectualism" of feminist rhetoric. Ironi- 
cally, this was precisely when her infatuations began with European 
male writers — who seem to be substitutes for the lost father figure 
she admits she has always mourned. 

Sontag's cool self-exile was a disaster for the American women's 
movement. Only a woman of her prestige could have performed the 
necessary critique and debunking of the first instant-canon feminist 
screeds, such as those by Kate Millett or Sandra Gilbert and Susan 
Gubar, whose middlebrow mediocrity crippled women's studies from 
the start. It was Sontag who should have risen to the defense of 
aesthetics, as feminism careened off on its Stalinist, anti-art track. 



And with her expertise in French theory, it was she who could have 
exposed Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and their legion of Anglo- 
American imitators for the sloppy, third-rate thinkers they are. 
No patriarchal villains held Sontag back; her failures are her own. 
We have all, Greeks and Trojans alike, paid the price for Sontag's 
lounging in her tent. 

Arriving at my first teaching job at Bennington College in 1972, 
I was still fully supportive of the women's movement and confident 
that it could correct its own errors and excesses. I was determined 
to be an uncompromising role model for young women and to put 
the radical new ideas about gender and sexual orientation into cir- 
culation on campus. My major courses — "Aestheticism and Deca- 
dence," "Women Writers," "Bloomsbury" — focused on deviant 
sexuality but always promoted the dignity and independence of art. 
With the students, I organized a women's film festival and wrote 
the program notes for movies (Born Yesterday, Adam's Rib, etc.) that 
illustrated modern female archetypes. 

As chairman of the speakers committee of the Literature and 
Languages Division, I resolved to bring women of achievement to 
Bennington, despite the limited budget of an impoverished art 
school. Susan Sontag was my leading candidate, but it was a struggle 
to get the proposal accepted, partly because of her high fee. Not 
everyone thought as highly of Sontag as I did, and inviting a speaker 
merely because she was a woman was not yet socially acceptable. 
On April 9, 1973, in my second semester at Bennington, I drove 
two hours to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to hear Sontag 
speak and, if I could, to pitch the idea of a visit to her directly. 

An unseasonable snowstorm on that dark spring day made travel 
slow and perilous. Parking in haste to rush to the lecture, I left my 
headlights on. After her presentation, I spoke to Sontag at length 
and did interest her in coming to Bennington, though sufficient 
funding was iffy. Returning to my now moribund car, I realized 
(after terrifying fireworks caused by a bumbling mechanic blowing 
out the solenoid) that I would have to stay overnight in Hanover. 
Racing back to campus, I intercepted Sontag, who asked a lecture 
organizer to put me up for the night on her couch. 

The car crisis gave me more time to converse with Sontag and 
observe her in action. It was the period when she was directing films 



in Europe, and she had a very stylish, lean look — boots, trousers, 
turtleneck sweaters, big belts, flowing scarves. Neither Mary 
McCarthy nor Simone de Beauvoir had such a persona or would 
have been able to carry it off. Though she denies it now, Sontag has 
always been hyperconscious of her theatricality and used it to great 
effect. I was excited by her performance at Dartmouth, since it 
convinced me that I was right to press for her invitation to Ben- 
nington and that she would make a spectacular impression on the 
students and convert the male faculty doubters. 

Negotiations began in earnest to bring The Visit off. There was 
resistance in many quarters, but I won the support of the new college 
president, Gail Thain Parker (who had been hired at 29, in what 
may have been the last gasp of Sixties youth cult). 2 All available 
money was pooled: it was twice what Bennington had ever paid any 
speaker. But the total was still only half of Sontag's normal fee. 
Though her publisher, acting as her agent, opposed her accepting 
that amount, Sontag nonetheless agreed to come as a favor to fac- 
ulty member Richard Tristman, a friend from graduate school at 

In the melancholy postmortem, I saw that the seeds of disaster 
were already sown in that preliminary agreement. Bennington, pay- 
ing twice its normal amount, expected double the quality. Sontag, 
accepting half her fee, planned to exert half her normal effort. As 
Oscar Wilde said, ' ' When the gods wish to punish us, they answer 
our prayers." The great day arrived: October 4, 1973. I blanketed 
the campus with posters and flyers announcing, as per our negoti- 
ations with her, that Sontag would speak about general cultural 
issues and answer questions afterward. I whipped up my students 
to bring all their friends for this extraordinary experience. 

Sontag was scheduled to arrive from New York in late afternoon, 
go directly to the president's house to freshen up and chat, then be 
picked up by me for dinner with faculty at the Rain Barrel, a French 
restaurant in North Bennington. After that, we would go directly 
from dinner to the lecture site, the quaint old Carriage Barn. The 
appointed time of Sontag's arrival came and went. Like a lonely 
lookout in a Western potboiler, I tensely waited at the top of the 
great drive that sweeps up from the college gate. At last a car, and 
at last Sontag, nearly two hours late, fast asleep in the backseat and 



looking as rumpled and haggard as a derelict. Horror and appre- 
hension swept over me as she finally arose, pufly, groggy, and dis- 
oriented, to return my greeting. 

Civilized relaxation at the president's house was now impossible, 
so after a quick hello there, it was lickety-split to the Rain Barrel, 
where time seemed to stop. Sontag refused to be hurried. With a 
sonorous flourish, she ordered steak au poivre y which seemed suitably 
grand and exotic. Conversing aimlessly with the other guests, she 
proceeded in a maddeningly leisurely manner through the various 
courses and wines. I felt we were in hellish slow motion. 

The start time of the lecture floated by. Emissaries began ar- 
riving from the Carriage Barn: it's full; it's been full for an hour; 
the crowd is impatient; the crowd is angry; the crowd is fit to be 
tied! Nothing I did or said budged Sontag in the least. Frantically 
gulping wine, I realized, by the time she was ready to move, that I 
was drunk but blessedly glad of it. Fortunately, it was a short drive 
up the hill to the Carriage Barn which, as we entered, was tangibly 
simmering with hostility. 

In photos of Sontag and me standing before the crowd as I 
introduced her, I am waving my arms around in what was certainly 
a grotesquely unnecessary manner. Bacchus knows what I said, but 
I do recall bounding around the centuries and invoking the salon — 
as in "not since the female savants of the ancien regime," blah, blah. 
Clearly smiling somewhat incredulously in the photo, Sontag 
stepped up to the podium and said good-naturedly, "That was the 
most . . . unusual introduction I have ever received!" This brought 
down the house. It was the last light moment of the evening. 

Collapsing onto a chair, my duty over, I prayed Sontag would 
now dazzle the multitudes with the free-form cultural commentary 
for which she had been billed. Instead, she removed a thin set of 
folded sheets from her jacket and began to read from them. It was, 
she said, a short story she had recently written. My heart sank. 
Much as I admired Sontag's essays, I thought that her two novels 
were awful and that she had little talent for fiction-writing. Ben- 
nington was known for its creative writing program; several of the 
prominent writing instructors had been among the most openly dis- 
missive about a Sontag visit. 

A pall settled over the crowd. The story was bleak and boring. 


35 1 

It was, of course, about nothing, in the nouveau roman way. Inertia 
and spleen. The packed Carriage Barn was half asleep, half hissy. 
I avoided the glaring eyes and ominous signals of my students, 
perched on the balcony, and tried to ignore the smug, "I-told-you- 
so" expressions on faculty faces. I fantasized about having a heart 
attack and being carried out feet first. Finally, mercifully, it was 
over. There were some half-hearted questions and flat, desultory 
responses. But it was very late and the unhappy crowd restless. The 
applause was perfunctory. We decamped. 

Then the reception. It would have made sense to hold the party 
on campus, but Bernard Malamud, Bennington's semi-resident star 
(and general pain in the ass), had insisted on giving it at his house. 
So everyone had to pile into cars and parade several miles to town. 
As I drove Sontag, I was surprised to learn she and Bernard had 
never met. What exactly happened at the party, I don't know. But 
one thing was crystal clear: Malamud — probably with his usual 
intolerable air of pious paternalism — shot something nasty at Son- 
tag, and she was fuming. "He invites me to his house to insult me!" — 
she repeated this several times in my car on the way back to campus 
afterward. She said that Malamud's wife, greeting her at the door, 
had stammered, "Hi, I'm Ann Ma-Ma-Malamud." Sontag snorted, 
"I should have known what kind of man he is by the fact that, after 
thirty years of marriage, his wife still can't say his name!" 

Sontag's fury seemed to energize her, and our conversation be- 
came lively. After we pulled up to the president's house, where she 
was staying the night, she sat slouched in her seat and talked for 
almost an hour. What struck me immediately was that, while at 
Dartmouth and for the entire evening at Bennington, she had been 
"Sontag," cool, detached, austere, and lofty, she now turned in the 
blink of an eye into "Susan," warm, gossipy, and distinctly Jewish 
in speech and manner. The transformation was startling. Hence I 
reject Sontag's present claims that it was the media or the misog- 
ynous establishment that, because of its discomfort with women 
thinkers, projected a false bitch-goddess persona onto her. Sontag, 
who was schooled in Los Angeles, created a high-profile property 
and sold it. Mazel tov! We need more women stars who can run 
their own studios. 

Sontag spoke freely about her life. She told me about her friend, 



the actress Nicole Stephane, the gorgeous young girl in Cocteau's 
Les Enfants terribles, Stephane had recently broken an ankle and was 
confined by her doctors to her chair; since she was physically active, 
this was torture to her. Whereas, said Sontag with a smile, she herself 
had always been physically inert and would welcome as a dream 
come true doctors' instructions to sit in a chair and do nothing but 
read for six weeks! We talked about other beautiful women — for 
example, Adriana Asti, whom she had cast in her own film, Brother 

At one point, I gently chided Sontag about her lateness and 
brought up the unplanned reading of the short story, both of which, 
I said, had put me in a bad position as her sponsor and host. She 
explained her being dead asleep in the car this way: she was, she 
claimed to me, "lazy," and her method of doing her essays was to 
"stay awake for two weeks. " Hence her fatigue on arrival in Ver- 
mont. I thought to myself: "Well, now I know why her essays seem 
so disorganized." 

Naturally, I avoided giving my real opinion of the vapid short 
story du jour. But my attempts at praise of Sontag's early essays were 
strangely rebuffed. About the famous "Notes on Camp," she gruffly 
declared to me: "Oh, I don't care about camp or homosexual taste 
any more. Once I write about a subject, I lose interest in it." Popular 
culture: equally boring, except for her own films. (I lauded the 
striped furniture in Brother Carl. She was pleased; she had chosen 
the fabric.) I grew more and more aggravated by her arch indiffer- 
ence to everything she had glorified in Against Interpretation. Piqued, 
probably, by Richard Tristman, an early supporter of mine, she 
asked about my own work, the then-in-progress Sexual Personae. I 
replied, but our minds did not connect. Something was missing. 

My impatience, after that long, stressful day, became overt. 
Finally, she asked, half irritated, half amused, "What is it you want 
from me?" I stammered, "Just to talk to you." But that was wrong. 
I wanted to say, "I'm your successor, dammit, and you don't have 
the wit to realize it!" It was All About Eve, and Sontag was Margo 
Channing stalked by the new girl. In the car, Sontag and I pleasantly 
dished like yentas but made no contact on any other level. It was 
many years before I realized what the primary problem was. Though 
only fourteen years separate us, Sontag belongs to the generation 



before World War II. Born in 1947, I'm a pop culture baby. My 
brain, for better or worse, is completely different from hers. Her 
mind moved too slowly, because my generation's synapses are elec- 
tronic and our circuitry hyperkinetic. 

The next day, and for weeks afterward, I had to endure a chorus 
of derision about the Sontag visit. It had been a debacle. Never again 
could one argue for major funding for a megastar. A year later, I 
brought Elizabeth Hardwick to campus for a minimal sum, but that 
was it. The Sontag visit assumed legendary status as a low-water 
reference point. It became an inside joke at Bennington about any 
dreaded drudgery: "Well, at least we don't have to listen to a Susan 
Sontag story!" It took me years to live down. Two decades later, 
when I began to be invited to lecture around the country, I remem- 
bered the lessons of that night. I have kept my speaker's fees unu- 
sually low, and I try to give maximum energy and effort to my 

While liking several pieces in Sontag's second essay collection, 
Styles of Radical Will (1969), I became increasingly critical of her 
work in the Seventies. On Photography (1977, first serialized in 1 973— 
74) seemed thin and forced, exposing an unfamiliarity with art his- 
tory and, oddly, a lack of instinct for visual images. Illness as Metaphor 
(1978) was clumsy and ponderous, like a graduate-school seminar 
paper. I hated Sontag's silence about homosexual issues in the 
twenty years following Stonewall. By the time she played catch-up 
in her wobbly essay on AIDS (1989), she was rightly clobbered by 
the gay-activist establishment, with whom I normally disagree. On 
Photography made me begin to see that Sontag's learning, aside from 
philosophy and religion, is almost exclusively concentrated in the 
modern period. Her pedestrian novel, The Volcano Lover (1992), and 
her corny playlet about Alice James and Emily Dickinson, In Bed 
with Alice (1993), demonstrate Sontag's incomprehension of any era 
before her own. 

Sontag belongs to the Age of Beckett, in the aftermath of the 
Waste Land. There her position is secure. She is the successor to 
Mary McCarthy. She is more original and versatile than Julia Kris- 
teva. She was born with as much talent as Simone de Beauvoir but 
did not develop it with the same tenacity; hence nothing she has 
done approaches the monumental achievement of The Second Sex. As 



much as the Foucault-obsessed New Historicists, she rejected and 
squandered her own great heritage of profound Jewish learning. 
Because of her European pretensions, she held herself back from 
American culture and has not had the influence she should have. 
She made herself an expatriate in her own land. But we are in a 
period of reassessment and recovery of reputations. With all her 
limitations, Sontag deserves to be read on campus far more than 
the imposters and double-dealers who run women's studies. At her 
best, Sontag represents independent thought and lifelong engage- 
ment with artistic and intellectual issues. 

Now for the campy denouement. There is no doubt my attitude 
toward Sontag hardened during the long period when I could not 
get published. Throughout the Seventies and early Eighties, the 
material from Sexual Personae was uniformly rejected by scholarly 
journals and literary magazines. Only two excerpts (on Spenser in 
1979 and Wilde in 1985) were printed before the completed man- 
uscript was accepted by Yale University Press, the eighth publisher 
to look at it. I found particularly galling the wholesale rejections by 
Partisan Review (which had "discovered" Sontag) of the copious ma- 
terial on popular culture. 

I began to see Sontag as queen of the cliquish New York literary 
establishment. Like Gloria Steinem, she became the consummate 
insider posing as an outsider. Sontag's gassiest effusions were treated 
as holy writ by The New York Review of Books. By the end of the 
Seventies, she had long lost her cultural centrality, but people could 
only whisper it; no one dared commit such an assertion to print. 
Sontag's royal insulation from reality was bad for her and cata- 
strophic for American literary life. 

By the time Sexual Personae finally appeared in 1990, I viewed 
Sontag and her coterie as fossilized petty tyrants. Interviewing me 
for the cover story, "Woman Warrior," for New York magazine 
(March 4, 1991), Francesca Stanfill heard the complete saga of my 
early admiration for Sontag, with the subsequent disillusionment. 
In the article, a photo of Sontag and me at Bennington was mor- 
dantly captioned with my bitter resume of our encounter: "I thought 
she was going to be this major intellectual." 

From the moment New York hit the newsstands, I became an 
unwelcome hot topic in Manhattan literary circles. The Yale edition 



of Sexual Personae had already been out for a year and had been 
dramatically featured in local bookstores. For example, Brentano's 
commissioned a giant blow-up of the cover and devoted an entire 
Fifth Avenue window to the book for a week. Tower Books, in 
Sontag's domain of downtown New York, installed a Sexual Personae 
electric-lightbox display that loomed over the entry staircase for two 
years. Nevertheless, Sontag would deny that she had ever heard 
of me. 

Once Sexual Personae went into Vintage paperback in September 
1991 and became a national bestseller, followed by the release a 
year later of Sex, Art, and American Culture, another bestseller, one 
might have expected some faint sign of recognition from Sontag. She 
could scarcely retain her claim to intellectual preeminence while not 
having heard of a controversial woman thinker of my international 
standing. A perhaps apocryphal story circulated that Sontag had 
once been amused, at a party, by a male writer who had been deeply 
influenced by Gertrude Stein replying to a question about Stein, 
"Who is that?" 

Much of my residual respect for Sontag disappeared during the 
blitz of American publicity for The Volcano Lover. Cover stories for 
The New York Times Magazine and Los Angeles Times Magazine were 
uncritical, unctuously flattering, and deficient in basic matters of 
fact, notably about Sontag's political history. 3 Open warfare with 
the Sontag camp broke out that month. James Wolcott's profile of 
me in Vanity Fair ended with my Homeric boast, "I've been chasing 
that bitch for twenty-five years, and I've finally passed her!" 4 In the 
same article, Sontag's son, David Rieff, made a series of disparaging 
remarks about me and my work — surprising, since his mother was 
claiming she never heard of me. After this piece was published, 
reporters could not get him to comment further. 

Shortly afterward, in the course of speaking about another mat- 
ter to "Page Six," the famed gossip column of The New York Post, I 
expressed my outrage about Sontag's kid-glove treatment by The 
New York Times. "Page Six" turned the affair into its lead story: 

Camille Paglia has come not to praise Susan Sontag but 

to bury her. The fast-talking feminist has mounted an all- 
out attack on the modernist, claiming she's passe and "the 



ultimate symbol of bourgeois taste." . . . "Sontag's been 
playing the intellectual bully, the intellectual duchess. I feel 
I am the avenger," Camille told us by phone. "I was an 
early admirer and now I'm her worst night- 
mare." . . . "Sontag has been defunct as an intellectual 
presence for 20 years," Paglia says. "She's been utterly 
reactionary in the fields of pop culture, feminism, gay ac- 
tivism, and French theory. I am the contender challenging 
the heavyweight, and I believe that with my new book I 
have emerged victorious." 5 

The article reported that Sontag was in Barcelona and that neither 
she nor her publisher would comment on my charges. 

Within days, Sontag surfaced in Manhattan at the official book 
party for The Volcano Lover, which seethed with deliciously catty gossip 
about the Paglia-Sontag contretemps. Later that week, Sontag ap- 
peared on national cable for what was probably her first-ever live- 
television call-in show. The very first caller, apparently inspired by 
the prankish gods, asked about me. Hesitating for a moment, Sontag 
said "I don't know who she is." After her somewhat meandering 
reply to the next question, the host cut to a commercial, as Sontag 
appeared to make comically exasperated gestures. 

The program was aired live on a Friday night. When I saw it 
rebroadcast Sunday afternoon, I was exultant. With my instincts as 
a counterpuncher (acquired from a lifetime of watching boxing and 
other sports on television), I sprang into action. By that night, I 
had talked to "Page Six." The next morning, before people even 
arrived in their offices for the start of the work week, the article 

Feminist Camille Paglia thinks she has author Susan Son- 
tag spooked. [Here followed a description of the television 
program.] Paglia laughs that Sontag can "no longer sepa- 
rate illusion from reality. . . . She either has to acknowledge 
my ideas, or lie. She's a poseur. She's never had a challenger 
and she can't handle it. The empress has no clothes." 6 

Few things in my career have given me more pleasure than the 
lightning speed with which I was able to counterattack on that 



occasion. It was the revenge of pop, which Sontag had abandoned. 
The logy barons of the incestuous New York literary world were 
helpless against this kind of guerrilla warfare by gossip column. As 
a worshiper of old Hollywood, I felt that the combative spirit of 
Hedda Hopper was with me. 

It had been twenty years since America's last big literary feuds. 
I loved watching Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal go at it. And there 
was Mary McCarthy versus Lillian Hellman, and Truman Capote 
versus Jacqueline Susann, a favorite diva of mine. Indeed, New York 
had prophetically called for a return to "literary pugilistics" in an 
article titled "The 1992 Literary Olympics," where Sontag and I 
are imagined "mixing it up." 7 I am a believer in pagan public 
spectacle, which simplifies and clarifies through dramatic symbol- 
ism. In my psychology, as in William Blake's, aggression heals 
repression. The sheer entertainment value of trashy literary feuds 
was demonstrated by the speed with which Entertainment Weekly 
picked up the story. Our photos were captioned: "Pugnacious Paglia 
and Silent Sontag." When asked what would happen if our book 
tours crossed, I replied, "We would slap each other silly." 8 I de- 
lighted in booting Sontag into a magazine she would normally scorn. 

That fall, when she appeared on Christopher Lydon and Company 
on Boston public television, Sontag evidently realized it would be 
wise to show some signs of connection with life. Now she admitted 
that yes, she had heard of Camille Paglia, but it was only very 
recently — "two and a half weeks ago"(!). And it was through some 
newspaper clippings "a stranger" had kindly sent her. She indicated 
no awareness that I had written any books or that she had ever seen 
them, even through a telescope. When an incredulous Lydon pressed 
her on this point, she became haughtily snappish. Lydon printed a 
partial transcript of the exchange, with his ironic commentary, in 
The Boston Phoenix? I had already told The Boston Globe, when it called, 
that Sontag's stonewalling was making her seem "crazy." 10 

When I appeared on his show (my third visit) the following 
March, a chuckling Lydon ran a clip of Sontag's remarks and asked 
me to respond to what he called her "massive denial." Laughing, I 
compared Sontag to Anne Bancroft as the prima ballerina in The 
Turning Point: "She is literally being passed by a younger rival, and 
she's not handling it, I'm afraid, very gracefully. . . . / am the Sontag 



of the Nineties, there's no doubt of it." Lydon spoke with amaze- 
ment of Sontag's contempt for television and popular culture. I 

Oh, she is so out of it! . . . Miss Mandarin did me such a 
favor by coming out with this novel. Everyone remembers 
the old Sontag, you see. They remember her as being beau- 
tiful, as being interesting, and suddenly they really see her, 
okay, for the first time. And they realize she's dull, she's 
boring, she's solipsistic. She knows nothing about contem- 
porary life. She is not a very good writer any longer. And 
even this new novel — she's become the toast of the bourgeoi- 
sie! She's no longer even avant-garde. 

What is the moral of this story? First of all, enormous early 
success of the Sontag kind can be destructive, not giving one time 
to develop as a thinker and writer. Celebrity can create an addiction 
to adulation, which is what I feel happened in Sontag's case, as in 
Madonna's. Intellectuals must take strong measures to remain out- 
side the establishment and to avoid cronyism. Unchallenged power 
is absolutely corrupting. Sontag's abandonment of academe removed 
her from the daily challenges, frustrations, scutwork, and ego- 
leveling routine of teaching, which keep one honest. As I told Fran- 
cesca Stanfill, when I rise, cursing, at six A.M. and drive into the 
city for my 8:30 class, I often remind myself, "Susan Sontag never 
did this!" Over time, a real job, in limiting and unglamourous cir- 
cumstances, gives one a sense of reality, of the human norm. Leftists 
who don't work become bourgeois parasites. 

My rivalry with Sontag went international, notably in Brazil 
and the Netherlands, which pitted us against each other in big, 
splashy pictorials. Sontag now responds to queries by calling me a 
"fool" or "repulsive," and saying, "Camille should go join a rock 
band" — an insult for her, of course, but a vision of nirvana for Sixties 
people. 11 Sontag's dated aesthetics were vividly demonstrated in the 
fall of 1993 by her bizarre descent, Beckett in hand, on Yugoslavia. 

When I heard that Sontag was directing Waiting for Godot in 
Sarajevo, I burst out laughing. "Little Susie Sunshine," I cried, 
"bringing good cheer to shellshocked Bosnia!" I was already on 



record as having called Godot "a repressive anxiety-formation of 
defunct modernism." 12 The play is the paradigmatic work of the 
pre-pop era of passive, nihilistic gloom, of loss of faith in nature, 
religion, or politics. Perhaps unfairly, I viewed Sontag's Sarajevo 
adventure as a ghoulish attempt to re-create her glory days, using 
other people's misery as a backdrop. "Gee," I remarked to a col- 
league, "I guess she can't find any plays to direct in Harlem." 

Because she is divorced from mass media, Sontag may not have 
realized that her pilgrimage to Sarajevo had already been done six 
months earlier by several melodramatic American celebrities, in- 
cluding a soap opera star, photographed by People magazine as she 
wandered, looking very worried, through the rubble. 13 Bosnia had 
become the cult charity of television news shows. I angrily con- 
demned it as a compulsive turning away from the more immediate 
and pressing subject of race relations in America, following the Los 
Angeles riots of April 1992. Given the crisis state of our urban 
neighborhoods, I found the national media's endless sob stories 
about wounded Bosnian white girls to be gratuitous and offensive. 
Where were the cameras in Philadelphia or the South Bronx? 

Sontag's chic alienation from her country was eloquently ex- 
pressed in her flight to Sarajevo. When a network news show dubbed 
her "Person of the Week" for this exploit, her publisher said on- 
screen, "Susan goes wherever there is suffering" — at which I guf- 
fawed so hard, I nearly sprayed my beer across the room. Her own 
city has plenty of suffering, but for various reasons it seems to 
be invisible to her. On the same program, Sontag called herself 

If only Oscar Wilde were alive to do justice to the sanctimonious 
moralism of the old-guard literary world. Sontag's son and sneering 
coterie sit around like mournful basset hounds on deep-think talk 
shows sighing about Bosnia and denouncing the American govern- 
ment for not intervening, a dangerous exercise in which other peo- 
ple's sons would be killed. Our literary leftists have only themselves 
to blame for their failure to influence public policy. 

Surely, intellectual style in the twenty-first century must be 
radically different. Popular culture cannot be wished away. Global 
politics will be refracted through telecommunications, the new uni- 



versal discourse. Pondering Sontag's career, I feel with renewed 
conviction that progressive values have strayed too far from direct 
experience and become imprisoned in outmoded verbal categories. 
An elitist leftism is a contradiction in terms. But it's Sontag's party, 
and she can cry if she wants to. 

1. Time, October 24, 1988. 

2. For the end of the Parker presidency in a campus revolt, see 
Nora Ephron's shrewd account, "The Bennington Affair," Esquire, 
May 1976. 

3. The New York Times, August 22, 1992. Los Angeles Times, August 
16, 1992. 

4. Vanity Fair, September (released mid-August) 1992. 

5. "Page Six," The New York Post, August 14, 1992. 

6. "Page Six," The New York Post, August 24, 1992. 

7. New York, August 10, 1992. 

8. Entertainment Weekly, September 18, 1992. 

9. The Boston Phoenix, November 27, 1992. The interview was re- 
corded September 23 and aired October 9. 

10. The Boston Globe, October 24, 1992. 

11. Zoe Heller, "The Life of a Head Girl," The Independent (London), 
September 20, 1992. Profile of Sontag. 

12. "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders," Sex, Art, and American 
Culture (New York, 1992), pp. 210-11. 

13. People, April 5, 1993. 




The glamourous, tawdry lives of Hollywood stars are the hero 
sagas of modern life. Born in obscurity, driven by a dream, the great 
stars fight their way to fame and win their date with destiny. But 
fortune's wheel is ever turning: a combination of hostile external 
forces and swirling internal pressures transforms triumph and ad- 
ulation into disaster and despair. 

This classic paradigm, half Greek tragedy and half soap opera, 
is remarkably demonstrated in David Shipman's absorbing new bi- 
ography, Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend. Mr. Ship- 
man, a British film historian, treats his sensational material with a 
sober earnestness that at first seems flat and unadventurous but that 
eventually wins our respect and trust. A fan of Garland's since he 
"fell in love with her in a record shop in Oxford in 1955," he presents 
her flamboyant personality with unflinching honesty, neither mor- 
alizing nor minimizing her faults. Mr. Shipman's scandal-packed 
book reads like the war chronicles of a laconic, unflappable battle- 
front correspondent, with explosions going off and casualties every- 

Judy Garland was born Frances Gumm in 1922 in Grand Rap- 
[New York Times Book Review, June 6, 1993] 




ids, Minn. Her father, a singer and manager of a movie theater, had 
left Tennessee with visions of show business. He was also, according 
to Mr. Shipman, a homosexual. Garland's mother, who knew of and 
later bitterly resented her husband's proclivities, had two daughters 
by him and then tried to abort Frances, the third. Garland claimed 
that her pushy mother took "great delight in telling rooms full of 
people" about these attempts to prevent the child from being born. 

As "Baby Gumm," Frances made her singing debut at 2/2 and 
brought down the house with her strangely powerful voice, out of 
which came her mature "belting" style. Garland said her talent was 
"inherited": "Nobody ever taught me what to do onstage." The 
Gumms moved to southern California in 1926 to promote the career 
of their tiny song-and-dance trio, the Gumm Sisters. Frances was 
already spoiled and given to "sudden, terrible fits of temper." She 
rapidly turned into an androgynous tomboy, "as if," says Mr. Ship- 
man, "she were becoming the son" her father had craved. 

Before long a boom time began for child actors: Hollywood 
studios beat the bushes for the next Shirley Temple, who was Amer- 
ica's panacea for the Depression. One night, George Jessel, intro- 
ducing the Gumm girls, renamed them the Garland Sisters. Frances 
boldly took the name Judy from a Hoagy Carmichael song. Jessel 
later said of Judy, who had been billed as "the little girl with the 
leather lungs," that even at 12 she sang like "a woman with a heart 
that had been hurt." 

Now began the period in Garland's life most familiar to us. 
Under contract at 13 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, she made several 
films, including her first with Mickey Rooney and leading up to The 
Wizard of Oz (1939). Garland said of these years, when she shuttled 
between the set and the studio schoolroom, "My life was a combi- 
nation of absolute chaos and absolute solitude." She was made to 
starve what Mr. Shipman calls her "naturally pudgy" body, and 
she secretly squirreled away cookies and candy bars from the studio 
spies watching her every move. 

Garland, Mr. Shipman reports, was soon taking appetite- 
suppressing amphetamines, as well as Seconal prescribed by the 
studio doctor. She needed pills to fall asleep and pills to wake up. 
By 20, she was seriously addicted, in a vicious lifelong cycle that 
would be dramatized in Jacqueline's Susann's wonderful Valley of 



the Dolls, which was inspired by her. Mr. Shipman says that near 
the end of her life (she died in 1969) Garland was taking large 
quantities of alcohol and barbiturates, as well as up to 20 Ritalin 
tablets a day. 

While her public image in the late 1930s was as "America's 
favorite kid sister," studio insiders knew, as Mr. Shipman puts it, 
that "the real Judy Garland was intense, headstrong, volatile." She 
married impetuously and found herself "completely unfitted" to run 
a house. She had her first two abortions and began to have affairs 
with both men and women. 

Always drawn to gay men, Garland finally married one, the 
director Vincente Minnelli, who became her second husband and — 
to the astonishment of Hollywood sophisticates — the unmistakable 
father of her daughter Liza. Garland's behavior was becoming "in- 
creasingly erratic." Mr. Shipman reproduces fascinating M-G-M 
memos from such troubled productions as Meet Me in St. Louis, which 
tartly record Garland's lateness and surliness. Paralyzed by inse- 
curity, she kept the whole set waiting day after day, much as Marilyn 
Monroe would do a decade later. After completing The Pirate (1947), 
Garland made her first suicide attempt and was forced to enter a 

In 1950, after repeated incidents in which Garland's unreliable 
behavior added "as much as 20 percent" to the budget of her films, 
M-G-M fired her. She slashed her throat but lived. When the news 
of her suicide attempt leaked and made headlines, her career entered 
a bizarre new phase. Jobless and tormented, she was startled to find 
herself mobbed by idolatrous fans screaming, "We love you, Judy!" 
Her humiliation and suffering had made her an international diva, 
locked into a passionate symbiotic relationship with a cult audience 
that was heavily gay. 

Garland's successive comebacks were engineered by her third 
husband, Sid Luft, whom Mr. Shipman credits with shrewd business 
sense and the patience of Job. There were stunning live performances 
in long sold-out engagements at the London Palladium and the 
Palace Theater in New York, which are still remembered by those 
lucky enough to have attended as peak moments in twentieth-century 
music. Garland's film career, except for A Star Is Born (1954), a box- 
office failure, was essentially over. 



Mr. Shipman's book is strongest in documenting Garland's 
uniqueness and mesmerizing virtuosity as a stage performer in the 
1950s and '60s. There are lavish citations from ecstatic British and 
American reviews, which strain for language to describe Garland's 
exquisite theatrical instincts, her stamina, vitality, and trembling 
tension, her operatic emotional depth and dynamic range. Like Puc- 
cini's Tosca, she lived for art. She was a creature of extremes, greedy, 
sensual and demanding, gluttonous for pleasure and pain. Her per- 
sonal appearances were extravagant and, as one critic put it, "or- 
giastic," like tumultuous pagan festivals. 

Psychology is not Mr. Shipman's forte, and he does little to 
explain Garland's hostility to her mother or her violently unstable 
union with Sid Luft and competitiveness with her own daughters. 
But his book admirably demonstrates the intricate interconnection 
of commerce and art in Hollywood. We get the grit of management, 
agents, contracts, bookings and ticket sales. And Mr. Shipman im- 
plicitly recognizes the link between genius and criminality. The great 
stars are sacred monsters, amoral vampires who drain those around 
them to feed the world. Judy Garland the person was a martyr to 
Judy Garland the artist, a supernormal being who destroyed as she 



Like a gleaming battleship with its publicity guns blazing, Ma- 
donna's long-awaited, aluminum-clad book, Sex, was launched on 
October 21 — and promptly ran aground in shallows of its own 

Jumbled and gimmicky, Sex was assembled with all the design 
skills of the average high-school yearbook. Pictures are drowned in 
an alphabet soup of cutesy typography. Color is chaotic. Cropping 
and pasting are banal. 

The shocking amateurishness of this production casts doubt on 
Madonna's ambitions as an art collector. Sex should have been a 
major achievement, documenting and exploring Madonna's impor- 
tant artistic ideas for her core audience and a whole new one, the 
serious reading public who doesn't listen to pop music and whose 
view of Madonna is a tabloid caricature. 

Apparently, no one among Madonna's advisers ever realized 
they were producing a book. A book is not a record or video. Pro- 
vocative phrases must be patiently fleshed out on the page, not 
thrown into the air like confetti. Because of her flippant indifference 

[US, December 1992] 




to literary history and style, Madonna's attempts to be avant-garde 
self-destruct in a blizzard of cliches. 

Is there anything of value in Sex? Yes, the battered but loyal 
Madonna fan, like a melancholy beachcomber sifting through the 
wreckage, can find glints and glimmers of the book-that-might-have- 

Madonna boldly attacks establishment feminist ideology head 
on. She denies that "pornography degrades women." She praises 
Playboy and later poses with a Playboy bunny tail. I applaud her. 
The puritanism of American feminism is proved by the failure of its 
pro-porn wing to publicly embrace the men's sex magazines. 

Even more daringly, Madonna shows a rape scene in a high- 
school gym as faintly pleasurable to the girl. She poses with legs 
spread on the rapists' pinball machine from The Accused. Many 
women, she asserts, stay in abusive relationships because they're 
"digging it" — a psychological truth ignored in our victim-obsessed 
culture. But Madonna's treatment of sadomasochism wavers: some- 
times it's a decadent power trip, sometimes just a fun fashion state- 
ment. The book begins: "Sex is not love. Love is not sex." This is 
brilliant and momentous but isn't sustained. 

The pictures are grouped in an ascending pattern, as in Dante: 
We go from the hellish prison-world of urban s & m sex clubs back 
to nature, the paradise of sun and surf. The southward movement 
from New York to Miami has European echoes: from Dietrich-era 
Berlin, with its jaded cabaret-crawlers, to the exuberant Mediter- 
ranean (Madonna flirts with Italian, eats pizza, and mimics Brigitte 
Bardot and Nancy Sinatra). 

Unifying the book is the theme of bisexuality, or sensuality in 
general, as a liberated view of life. There are dozens of sexual com- 
binations. Tactile sensations — fabric, fleece, leather, hair — are em- 
phasized. Liquids stream or are swum in; there is frank dabbling in 
urination and sexual secretions. The book has Freud's "polymor- 
phous perversity," the infant's indiscriminate total responsiveness. 

Madonna's hypnotic autoeroticism is the most powerful thing 
in the book. She has the charismatic narcissism of all great stars. 
But this is what destroys the book as a whole. The pictures are best 
of Madonna alone, mistily communing with her own divinity. The 
pictures with others are awkward, sexless and contrived, "high- 



concept" bright ideas that fall with a thud. The star is a vampire 
sucking out everyone else's energy, including Naomi Campbell and 
Isabella Rossellini, who look sheepish and uncomfortable. 

That Steven Meisel, a virtuoso of fashion ads, is an inept pho- 
tographer of sex scenes was obvious a year ago in his waxy, sepul- 
chral spread of Madonna as a Twenties lesbian for Rolling Stone. 
Herb Ritts is the supreme photographer of Madonna's smoldering 
sensuality. Sex struggles for Helmut Newton's elegant sophistication 
and never comes near it. 

There are a few great images here. A masked Madonna slouching 
in a black-leather bikini. Bejeweled Madonna as a slinky Circe tap- 
ping along a herd of male slaves with her crop. Acrobatic Madonna 
as a pagan water sprite arched on a bronze porpoise. Tough-gal 
Madonna crouching to light a cigarette or, booted, straddling a 
radiator. Hitchhiking Madonna, hilariously nude except for high 
heels and a purse. 

The list of bad or mediocre pictures is long, but standouts are 
a ridiculous series with tattooed lesbian skinheads, who look like 
scrawny plucked chickens and radiate all the sinister sexuality of 
The Brady Bunch. Among trick pictures playing with androgyny and 
transvestism: Madonna's trampy kickoffs appear on the macho Va- 
nilla Ice. There are lukewarm experiments in voyeurism, pederasty 
and bestiality, a very dull porno comic strip, and several steamy 
word-fantasies. But Madonna's eerie persona as Dita dominatrix 
finally fizzles. Dietrich Dita ain't. 

Sex, wrapped in Warhol silver like an interstellar candy bar, 
promises a flight of imagination but delivers a very bumpy ride. The 
important issues it raises — the relation of love to lust, the sluttishness 
of the fully sexual woman — are never developed. That the book 
contains a CD signals an inescapable truth: in music and dance, 
Madonna does her deepest thinking. This is her emotional bond 
with her audience, a marriage of true minds on a global scale. And 
no matter how she acts, we will never divorce her. 




Since her arrival on the scene ten years ago, Madonna has 
become so synonymous with sex and publicity that it may be hard 
to remember that she started as a musical phenomenon. As an am- 
bitious young dancer, she dropped out of college in her native Mich- 
igan and arrived in New York in 1978 virtually penniless. Homeless 
and scrounging for food in garbage cans, she clung to her dream of 
fame and fortune and eventually caught the attention of a series of 
nightclub disk jockeys and record producers, who were struck by 
her eccentric fusion of avant-garde dance moves, disco-funk music, 
and hip urban waif fashion style. The rest, as Muse-mothering Mne- 
mosyne might say, is history. 

I write at a moment (February 1993) when Madonna's career 
is in an unprecedented trough. In the fall of 1992, she released a 
$50 coffee-table book of pornographic photographs, Sex (New York: 
Warner Books) that became a worldwide bestseller but that lost her 
crucial support among many people in publishing, media, and the 
fashion industry — not because the book is shocking but because it 
is boring, derivative, and sloppily thrown together. Yet Erotica, the 
moody album released simultaneously with the book, was Madon- 

[American Musicological Association Notes, September 1993] 


37 1 

na's most personal and artistically adventurous, breaking the mold 
of frantic, upbeat dance music that had become her signature. Here 
she speaks honestly as an artist to her audience, heart to heart, below 
the level of that increasingly tiresome sexual persona that has run 
out of taboos to break. 

Despite its dark beauty, Erotica did not have the blockbuster 
sales Madonna was accustomed to, partly because of its lack of peppy 
hit singles, and we soon saw pushy advertisements by her record 
company on MTV, something she never needed at the height of her 
career. Matters worsened when the first two videos for the album 
were either dull and murky ("Erotica") or ugly and silly ("Deeper 
and Deeper" — a brilliant song that deserved better). Madonna, who 
had pioneered the music-video revolution in the 1980s with dozens 
of stunningly conceived and photographed videos, most of which are 
now classics, seemed to be losing her magic touch. Had her real-life 
romantic problems sent her into a tailspin? 

Madonna's longing for screen stardom began with her wonderful 
performance as a street scamp (based on herself) in the film Des- 
perately Seeking Susan (Orion Pictures, 1985) and led to her central 
casting in two notorious bombs and a series of modestly successful 
supporting roles. But came the deluge: the debacle in January 1993 
of the faux-s&m Body of Evidence, which was hilariously shredded by 
critics and audiences alike and may go down in Hollywood history 
as one of the worst turkeys ever made by a celebrity. 

But Madonna has the ability to surprise you, to remake herself 
and rise phoenixlike from her own ashes. She has a bedrock support 
from loyal fans worldwide, who lived through her meteoric early 
career with her and will not abandon her now, even if her diversion 
of energy into movies causes some uneasiness among those (including 
me) who believe her real talents lie in music and dance. It is most 
unfortunate that Madonna's public-relations overkill and extracur- 
ricular escapades (baring her breasts at Jean-Paul Gaultier's fashion 
show, for instance) have overshadowed her artistic achievements 
and made it difficult, if not impossible, for cultivated and discrim- 
inating people outside the pop realm to see that she is an artist, a 
contention that seems to me indisputable. 

Ironically, the temporary fall in Madonna's reputation has come 
at the very moment of a flash flood of the first serious books about 



her. The strongest of several biographies is by Mark Bego, Madonna: 
Blonde Ambition. Two essay collections have also appeared, the first 
academic and absurdly pedantic, the second largely journalistic but 
a lot more fun: The Madonna Connection, edited by Cathy Schwich- 
tenberg (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), and Desperately Seeking Ma- 
donna, edited by Adam Sexton and including a newspaper article by 
me (New York: Delta, 1993). 

Current academic writing on Madonna — indeed, on American 
popular culture in general — is of deplorably low quality. It is marked 
by inaccuracy, bathos, overinterpretation, overpoliticization, and 
grotesquely inappropriate jargon borrowed from pseudotechnical 
semiotics and moribund French theory. Under the misleading rubric 
"cultural studies," intensely ambitious but not conspicuously tal- 
ented, learned, or scrupulous humanities professors are scrambling 
for position by exploiting pop culture and sensitive racial and sexual 
issues for their own professional purposes. 

In my opinion, writing on American popular culture should be 
simple, lucid, and concrete. If Jacques Lacan is mentioned, you can 
be sure you're dealing with an incompetent. The Madonna material 
produced by these desperately trendy academics is shot through with 
clumsy, pretentious terminology like "intertextual," "diegesis," 
"significations," "transgressive," "subversive," "self-representa- 
tion," "subject position," "narrative strata," and "discursive prac- 
tices." This would be comical, except for its ill effect on students 
and an increasingly corrupt career system. 

Bego is the author of more than twenty celebrity biographies, 
many of whose subjects have been singers — among them Barry 
Manilow, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Cher, Bette Midler, 
and Aretha Franklin. Madonna: Blonde Ambition profits from his deep 
familiarity with the modern music industry, whose commercial dy- 
namic he understands without condemning or excusing it. The weak- 
nesses in the book come from his unwillingness to press or explore 
legitimate criticisms of Madonna in the detail they deserve, perhaps 
because as a professional biographer he needs to preserve his access 
to and guarantee the goodwill of his famous subjects. Nonetheless, 
I highly recommend Bego's Madonna as a generally reliable and 
entertaining introduction to the career of this superstar. Its chro- 



nology of events fills gaps in our knowledge of Madonna and is 
invaluable to the student of recent popular culture. 

Bego's account of Madonna's early years in New York vividly 
documents the carnival-like downtown dance-club scene, just emerg- 
ing from the crazed, cocaine-fueled, more upscale Studio 54 era. 
Madonna's musical tastes from adolescence on had been Motown 
and soul rather than rock, which Bego notes was more her brothers' 
style. (Her recent dismissive remarks about a remarkable Guns n' 
Roses double album, heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones, bear 
this out.) In New York Madonna was exposed to Latino influences, 
coming from the clattering metallic percussiveness and complex 
polyrhythms of salsa, and with the help of an early boyfriend, the 
producer Jellybean Benitez, she fused them with the melting lyricism 
and earthy big bassline of black music. Bego is very helpful in his 
evenhanded reportage of Madonna's early collaborations with 
Benitez and his rival, Reggie Lucas. This period of Madonna's 
music, which produced the superb "Burnin' Up," remains my fa- 
vorite, and I was delighted to see that so much about it was retriev- 
able for the historical record. 

Madonna was frequently accused of sleeping her way to the top 
or of simply being a puppet of Svengalis in the production booth. 
Bego's book lays such rumors to rest once and for all. As even her 
early and still bruised manager, Camille Barbone, admits, Madonna 
may have always used her sexuality to get what she wants, but her 
master plan for herself, and her grit and tenacity in bringing it to 
pass, is worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. But while Madonna has had 
enormous popular success, the respect of the music establishment 
and many rock critics still eludes her: she has never been nominated 
for a Grammy and claims to be resigned that she never will. Con- 
sidering the number of highly individualistic and gorgeously pro- 
duced hits that she has written or co-written and that became 
instantly canonical, this would appear a serious injustice. 

Bego gives the first detailed descriptions of Madonna's crucial 
mentoring by a gay male dance teacher in Michigan; her magpie 
fashion borrowings from the stylist Maripol and the street-smart 
Debi Mazar; her public flirtation with the comedian Sandra Bern- 
hard; and the sketchy negotiations with Pepsi-Cola that led to the 



scandal of the "Like a Prayer" video. However, Bego is not so 
satisfactory on a number of other episodes, for example, Madonna's 
performance as Marilyn Monroe for the Hollywood power elite at 
the Oscars, which was, he seems not to realize, a disaster. Similarly, 
he skims over Madonna's needling of a visibly irritated Arsenio Hall 
on his talk show, which led to another disaster, her next appearance 
there with the comedian Rosie O'Donnell, when Hall let the oafish, 
tittering women hang themselves before a mass audience. 

Madonna's cruelty to her childhood friend, Moira McFarland, 
in the documentary Truth or Dare, goes unmentioned. The psycho- 
biography of Madonna's hot-and-cold relations to her siblings is a 
bit thin, as is the treatment of the lawsuit against her by three of 
her dancers. And there is little probing inquiry into Madonna's 
involvement with AIDS activism, which, while admirable in an eth- 
ical sense, has also addicted her to a tone of preachy self-righteous- 
ness that has not always benefited her or her causes. 

While he frankly admits her "inability to deliver simple dia- 
logue" in her movies (p. 235), Bego lets Madonna off the hook about 
too many artistic matters, such as her failure to research the Phil- 
adelphia working-class accent required for her role in Who's That 
Girl? (Warner Brothers, 1987), which she arrogantly winged on the 
inept assumption that it is identical to a Bronx accent. He also 
records without comment the increasing number of projects she has 
been simultaneously engaged in, which has led, in my view, to the 
embarrassing failures of quality control in her recent work. She is 
seriously overextended. 

Like Michael Jackson, Madonna may have become a prisoner 
of her own celebrity. Natural instincts are stunted and mutilated by 
the isolating artificiality of wealth and power. The most significant 
contribution of Bego's book is its establishment of Madonna's story 
as a Romantic saga of the artist-as-hero. Like the affluent Paul 
Gauguin, Madonna made herself deprived, as if to obliterate her 
protected middle-class origins in the squalor of a hand-to-mouth 
reality. Bego proves her suffering and sacrifice. What Madonna has, 
she earned. But can she survive success? Aging Romantics are in a 
race with themselves. 



John Ralston Saul is a Canadian writer whose four novels of 
international intrigue include The Birds of Prey and The Paradise Eater, 
set in Bangkok. His practical experience has been extensive: he 
managed an investment firm in Paris and served for ten years with 
the Canadian government oil corporation. Saul also has a doctorate 
from King's College, London; his thesis was on Charles de Gaulle. 

Voltaire's Bastards, Saul's first published work of nonfiction, is an 
ambitious 600-page meditation on modern culture, tracing the roots 
of our troubled political, economic and intellectual systems back to 
the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Despite its frequent overstate- 
ments, ponderous format, and excessive bleakness, Voltaire's Bastards 
is a rich, rewarding, highly original book that casts a fresh per- 
spective on all aspects of our public life. There are innumerable 
brilliant insights. Even when he gets his facts wrong — as sometimes 
happens in his rushed survey of literary and artistic history — Saul 
is suggestive and stimulating. 

Saul argues that democracy is subverted by the dominance of 
rational systems of control that are essentially unreformable. The 
modern science of administration is king. Capitalism has been trans- 

[Washington Post Book World, September 6, 1992] 




formed; it is not the owners, the stockholders, but their amoral, 
faceless hirelings, the managers, who have unbalanced and bled the 
marketplace at no risk to themselves. The West is obsessed with a 
frenzied, sterile quest for ultimate efficiency. "Our obsession with 
expertise" has produced a master caste, technocrats who are con- 
summate mediocrities. Whether in corporations or government, they 
are merely "number crunchers," "highly sophisticated grease jock- 
eys" with "a talent for manipulation," who keep the machine hum- 
ming. Our elites, like sycophantic eighteenth-century courtiers, 
stand for nothing but "cynicism, ambition, rhetoric, and the worship 
of power." 

Saul's blistering indictment hits a great variety of targets — 
though not, regrettably, American academe, where self-propagating, 
overpaid technocrat-administrators are strangling education in a 
way that exactly proves his points. His account of the origins and 
influence of the Harvard Business School is fascinating: the founding 
Harvard deans were admirers of Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose 
theories of "Scientific Management" for industrial reorganization 
were also adopted by Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, and by Albert 
Speer in Nazi Germany. 

The business schools and schools of public policy in America 
and Europe enshrine "abstract, logical process" and an "obsession 
with structures." Their students become "addicts of pure power," 
without goals or vision. The economic transition from manufacturing 
to a top-heavy service sector has exacerbated social problems. Nearly 
three-quarters of business-school graduates go on to cushy non- 
manufacturing jobs like consulting and banking. They avoid Pitts- 
burgh and Birmingham, where the factories are, and settle in "the 
great centres of postindustrial self-gratification," like New York and 
London. Saul thinks this steering of top managerial talent away from 
nuts-and-bolts experience is a major cause of our industrial decline. 

In some of the most startling material of his book, Saul argues 
that the modern, discreet, ruthless administrative style was created 
by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, who was wounded 
by a cannonball passing between his legs. Though he claims religion 
is dead and comes perilously close to demonizing Catholicism, Saul 
is at his best in his comparison of the arbitrary investigative method 
of the Inquisition to that of today's police-state torturers. He makes 



clever connections: Descartes, pillar of the Age of Reason, was ed- 
ucated by the Jesuits. 

But Saul tries too hard to build a case against the last five 
centuries, when in fact the trends he identifies are also discernible 
in antiquity. For example, his cold, cynical company man is the 
Caesar of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra or the Creon of Soph- 
ocles' Antigone. And the amoral style of interrogation Saul claims 
was invented by the Inquisitors is already evident in Pontius Pilate's 
treatment of Jesus. 

Voltaire's Bastards would be stronger with some consideration of 
the evolution of commercial and political bureaucracies in Meso- 
potamia and Egypt, which would demonstrate that the negative 
principles Saul isolates are universal and intrinsic to civilization 
and its discontents. The book also lacks sustained attention to the 
Greco-Roman origins of Western logic as well as to the complex 
status of reason in medieval theology. Even the presentation of post- 
Enlightenment culture suffers from a curious blankness about 
Romanticism, which Saul rarely mentions but which powerfully cri- 
tiqued Western institutions and ideology from within. 

Saul is superb, however, on military history, which is glaringly 
absent from the overliterary worldview of poststructuralism. With 
a novelist's instinct for historical sweep, he presents the staggering 
development of the arms trade, which has distorted and impover- 
ished the world economy. Secondly, he shows how this "Armada 
complex" is a direct result of the victory of staff officers over field 
officers in the past two centuries, a phenomenon that led to the 
carnage of World War I. 

Although he is unfair to Napoleon, whom he blames for inau- 
gurating the pattern of godlike hero that would produce Hitler but 
that again has ancient precedents, Saul's profiles of military men 
from Lord Kitchener to General William Westmoreland are models 
of quick-take psychological astuteness. There are dramatic juxta- 
positions, such as a wonderful comparison of Cardinal Richelieu to 
Robert McNamara, against whom Saul levels devastating charges 
of incompetence. 

The last chapters of Voltaire's Bastards feel like an awkwardly 
appended coda. Saul zips through five hundred years of literature 
and art, flinging out opinions from the fruitful to the bizarre. The 



current crisis in literary criticism, perfect grist for his mill, is passed 
over with a few disparaging remarks about deconstruction. Popular 
culture is treated in a dismissive, harrumphing way all too familiar 
these days. The discussion of Christian images ignores Protestant 
iconoclasm. But the book ends with a thrilling celebration of the 
revolutionary power of clear, simple language against the "profes- 
sional obscurantism" of the establishment. I was moved and inspired 
by Saul's vision of the writer as "faithful witness." 

Despite huge leaps, frustrating repetitions and organizational 
uncertainty, Voltaire's Bastards is a vigorous, continuously interesting 
rereading of the principal issues of our time. Its enormous cast of 
characters includes Machiavelli, Marie Antoinette, Walt Disney, 
James Baker, and T. Boone Pickens. Massively grounded in hard 
fact, the book unintentionally exposes the flimsiness and amateurism 
of New Historicism, a recent fad in literary criticism influenced by 
Michel Foucault that finds imperialism under every doormat. Saul's 
intricate analysis of the cold, mechanical operations of Western in- 
stitutions and policy-making is informed and convincing where that 
of the careless, culture-bound Foucault was not. Voltaire's Bastards 
should be required reading for graduate students in the humanities. 
It would break through interdisciplinary barriers without the pos- 
turing and cliches of poststructuralism. 

After so dire a picture of Western culture, we might expect some 
concrete proposals for reform. But Saul insists, perhaps to our dis- 
appointment, that the writer's mission is "questioning and clarify- 
ing," not providing solutions. In this, he has certainly succeeded. 
Rejecting the exhausted stereotype of left versus right, he opens up 
new lines of inquiry and creates new constellations of meaning. With 
his sophisticated international perspective and blunt freedom from 
cant, Saul offers a promising persona for the future: the intellectual 
as man of the world. 



Germaine Greer is back. Unfortunately, she's in a very bad 

Publication of The Change offers young American women an 
opportunity to get to know one of the great lost figures of feminism. 
When her wonderful first book, The Female Eunuch, was released in 
1970, Greer cut a brilliant track across the cultural sky. She was 
witty, learned, sexy, and stylish. In her uproarious debate with 
Norman Mailer at New York's Town Hall, she tartly put men in 
their place and created a sophisticated sexual persona for female 
intelligence that has never been surpassed. 

But Greer and feminism took a wrong turn. Within three years, 
the thrilling vivacity and humor had turned into dreary ranting. As 
feminist ideology hardened into political correctness in the Seventies, 
the dazzlingly gifted Greer tragically cheered it on instead of pro- 
testing. Her subsequent books, unevenly researched and shot 
through with dogma, never won Greer the academic respect that 
once seemed hers for the asking. 

The Change, along with Gail Sheehy's recent best-seller about 
menopause, The Silent Passage, heralds a major shift in thinking about 

[People, November 30, 1992] 




gender. After more than twenty years of "social constructionism" 
(which attributes all sexual differences to social conditioning), 
women are ready to think about nature again. Hormones are back 
in fashion. 

In The Change, Greer searches the lives of prominent women of 
the past for references to menopause — and finds frustratingly few. 
She surveys the history of menopause as a medical category and 
deftly outlines woman's fantastically complex endocrine system. To 
relieve menopausal distress, Greer endorses traditional herbal rem- 
edies and aromatherapy. She is skeptical about estrogen replace- 
ment, which she feels simply postpones the inevitable aging process. 
She argues that spiritual renewal, not plastic surgery, is menopausal 
women's best hope for happiness. 

In her most fascinating chapter, Greer transforms the stereotype 
of the cursing, half-cracked crone or witch into a symbol of elderly 
women's solitude, freedom, and vision. This will surely prove in- 
spirational to lonely widows or dutiful wives callously abandoned 
for younger women. But Greer backs away from her aggressive, 
malicious crone. Her last chapter — glorifying the noble, plucky fe- 
male spirit bravely carrying on against all odds — is cloyingly sen- 
timental, the kind of airy, uplifting effusion that was a staple of 
genteel ladies' magazines in prefeminist days. She strains for a glow- 
ing finale to what is a very dark book. 

The robins and crocuses that suddenly pop up cannot conceal 
the fact that The Change seethes with vindictive bitterness toward 
men, who appear only as smelly, grotesque caricatures. Science and 
medicine are too often maligned here as a greedy, brutal, monolithic 
"male-supremacist" establishment. There are scattered slaps at 
"consumer culture" but no sustained political analysis. And let's 
face it: for all her professed socialism, Greer lives like a duchess. 

Greer's glum sense of isolation may owe less to menopause than 
to her own misjudgments, as well as to a failure to rethink her rigid 
antimale feminist ideology. When she left the University of Warwick 
after the heady success of The Female Eunuch, Greer and academe 
both lost. Outside the discipline of the academic world, Greer's 
scholarly skills never developed. Her thinking is always stimulating 
but tends to dissipate itself in flashy spurts. She recently returned 



to teaching as an unofficial fellow of Cambridge University, but too 
much time was wasted. 

Whatever the defects of her work, Greer is one of the women of 
the century. Her sharp tongue, vibrant personality, and spiritual 
odyssey will be just as vivid a hundred years from now as they are 
today. Indeed, Greer may be an even more powerful figure, freed 
from the burden of our expectations as her contemporaries and 
disappointed fans. 



Edward Said, one of the leading literary critics of his generation, 
is a rare example of an American academic who is also an intellectual 
in the European sense. As a professor at Columbia University, he 
has produced ten books in more than twenty-seven years on subjects 
ranging from Joseph Conrad and French theory to Orientalism and 
musicology. As a Christian Palestinian educated in Egypt, he has 
analyzed and protested against the West's destructive misunder- 
standing of the Arab world. In short, Said is a brilliant and unique 
amalgam of scholar, aesthete, and political activist, an inspiring role 
model for a younger generation of critics searching for their cultural 

Said's new book, Culture and Imperialism, a collection of revised 
lectures originally given in the late 1980s in Great Britain and North 
America, extends his ideas into a rich variety of new as well as 
familiar areas, from the nineteenth-century realist novel to Italian 
opera and Irish poetry. Said's learning, like the humanistic per- 
spective he espouses, is global. He is deeply immersed in comparative 
literature, and his omnivorous interest in and citation of recent 
groundbreaking interdisciplinary work by scholars of Africa, the 

[Washington Post Book World, March 7, 1993] 




Middle East, India, and the Caribbean are impressive and useful. 

Culture and Imperialism has an eloquent, urgent topicality rare in 
books by literary critics, whose political thinking these days tends 
to be long on ideology and short on facts and practical experience. 
Said, unlike his pampered, cloistered brethren on American cam- 
puses, is a true man of the world. His most telling charge against 
such trendy styles as academic Marxism, New Historicism, post- 
modernism, and jargon-infested deconstruction is that they are 
"ahistorical." Said's efforts to mesh literary and political analysis 
into a single broad discourse succeed because of his own precision 
of mind and complex and unsentimental engagement with current 

The largest theme of Said's book is the crossroads America faces 
after the disintegration of the Soviet Union: will we become the new 
British Empire, coercive caretaker of the world? Said notes a "de- 
pressing" similarity between the rhetoric of 4 'self-congratulation" 
and "triumphalism" of pundits and politicians about the 1991 Gulf 
War and that of British sahibs in imperial India. Has America taken 
up "the white man's burden" as arrogant "civilizer" of other races 
and nations with their own traditions and destinies? 

Said argues that Western culture of the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries was formed in tandem with the political processes of im- 
perialism, resistance, and decolonization. The complete interpre- 
tation of a significant number of masterworks from this period 
depends on acknowledging their implication in the formation and 
reinforcement of imperialistic assumptions. Said's thinking has been 
influenced by Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon, but he uses their 
ideas sparingly and judiciously, without the coarseness of many less 
cultivated literary theorists today. For Said, art and politics are 
intermeshed; neither is subordinate to the other. 

Said's view of "the consolidation of authority" in the novel form 
is strikingly illustrated in his penetrating discussion of Jane Austen's 
Mansfield Park, which he sees structured by a contrast between pas- 
toral England and slave-holding Antigua — an opposition overlooked 
! by mainstream readers. As always, he scrupulously cautions against 
! reductiveness: he thinks of his reading as "completing or comple- 
menting others, not discounting or displacing them." In such mem- 
orable, finely turned phrases, which fill the book, Said shows his 



superiority to the dull run of overpoliticized critics with their tin- 
eared prose. 

A short review cannot fairly summarize the important issues 
touched on in this book. In an ingenious analysis, Said movingly 
contrasts "the opulence of India's space" in Rudyard Kipling's Kim 
to "the lusterless world of the European bourgeoisie" as portrayed 
by nineteenth-century French novelists. The chapter on Verdi's 
"Ai'da" was of special interest to me. Perhaps Said, in building this 
indictment against the imperialist commissioning of the opera by 
the Khedive of Egypt, unfairly underestimates the impact that the 
finale's dramatization of political tyranny has on an audience. Never- 
theless, Said's rhythmic weaving of art, finance, and history feels 
natural and unforced. His account of the fate of the Cairo Opera 
House built for Verdi is tersely ironic: it burned down in 1971 and 
became a parking lot. As Said presents it, this comic decline seems 
to epitomize Europe's failure to comprehend or fundamentally alter 
the cultures it invaded. 

The severe chapter on Albert Camus's The Stranger is wonderful. 
For Said, "the blankness and absence of background in the Arab" 
murdered in the book came from Camus's repressed awareness of 
the magnitude of French domination in Algeria. Against the norm, 
Said sees in Camus an "incapacitated colonial sensibility." The 
treatment of William Butler Yeats similarly stresses Ireland's legacy 
of imperial servitude to England, though Said might be allowing 
local references to overshadow the vastness of "Leda and the Swan," 
which sees Western history as a panorama marked by eruptions of 
cataclysmic violence. 

Said opposes "identity politics" as a splintering new tribalism 
and criticizes Afrocentrism as much as Eurocentrism. He wants us 
to read "contrapuntally," with sharpened attention to all competing 
voices and themes in a work. My reservations about Said's approach 
are, first, that only a critic with his disciplined, surgical skill can 
succeed with it. In lesser hands, art gets mutilated by the rush to 

Second, the problem Said is remedying may be confined to 
university literature departments, which lost contact with the 
research-based old historicism during the latter days of the New 



Criticism, with its increasingly threadbare middlebrow formalism. 
Time and again, I was dismayed by Said's caricature of the disci- 
plines of anthropology, Egyptology, and Oriental studies, whose 
massive scholarship in the nineteenth century is the foundation of 
today's knowledge. As in his uncritical citations of Martin BernaPs 
regrettably overideological Black Athena, he tends to accept others' 
dismissal of a massive body of work of awesome learning and con- 
tinuing relevance. Perhaps what we need in the movement toward 
multiculturalism is not new strategies of reading but a return to a 
general education based on hard fact and respect for scholarship. 

Third, Said's definition of imperialism may be too limited by 
overconcentration on the past two hundred years. A political theory 
must take in the full span of history, from the Egyptian, Persian, 
and Roman empires to those of the Moors, Inca, and Japanese. The 
idea that exploration and empire-building are motivated only by 
greed has to be modified by an acknowledgment that economic 
development has always been tied to hierarchical organization, ex- 
pansion, and exploitation of natural resources, from the first state- 
sponsored irrigation projects of the Tigris and Euphrates valley in 
ancient Mesopotamia. 

Fourth, Said, like Foucault, neglects Romanticism in his portrait 
of the past two centuries. Romantic literature is itself a critique of 
the limitations in imperial, patriarchal society that Foucault and 
feminism claim to have discovered. Said's equation of land with 
property may be too materialistic: Romanticism sees land as nature, 
the great missing term in the Foucauldian equation. 

Fifth, Said's description of the international dominance of 
corporate-owned mass media overrelies on negative Frankfurt-school 
formulas that predate World War II. Media is more than news. 
American popular culture has seduced the youth of every nation 
and may indeed be the best hope yet for international and communal 

My other nagging questions would address why the British im- 
perial system was so powerful in the first place. Military force alone 
cannot explain it. Objectivity and efficiency may be Western Apol- 
lonian myths, but they have been enormously fruitful as well as 



Said is a writer who challenges and stimulates our thinking in 
every area. He is a man of profound feeling and ethical imagination. 
His prose reminds me of that of Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean: 
it is sober, stately, lucid, and melancholy. Literary criticism, which 
is struggling to bridge the gap between art and politics, has every- 
thing to learn from listening to Edward Said's dialogue with himself. 



This slim book has a most appetizing title. A scholarly explo- 
ration of fashion, culture, and identity should penetrate to the heart 
of our time. But Fred Davis, emeritus professor of sociology at the 
University of California, San Diego, seems ill-prepared to deal with 
any of these subjects in depth. The University of Chicago Press, 
following the lamentable lead of Routledge in mistaking trendiness 
for substance, ought to reexamine its editorial procedures, which 
have slickly repackaged Davis's earnest, plodding prose without of- 
fering him basic help in organization or conceptualization. 

Neither the author nor the publisher of Fashion, Culture, and 
Identity seems clear about what audience it is intended for. Davis 
nervously eyes an invisible chorus of scowling fellow sociologists, to 
whom he attributes a snorting dismissal of the "frivolous" fashion 
industry and anyone silly enough to study it. To propitiate this 
baleful battalion of hanging judges, Davis loads his pages with a 
slag-heap of mind-dulling jargon and labyrinthine abstraction, so 
that the reader has the sensation of tunneling through debris to find 
the corpse of the subject. But then the tone changes, and we get a 
simple, unpretentious passage on some interesting but familiar mat- 

[Times Literary Supplement, London, May 28, 1993] 




ter, like the history of blue jeans. A few flying references to Barthes, 
Baudrillard, and Foucault seem added on as hasty afterthoughts to 
prove the book au courant. 

Davis's primary thesis is that the rapid cycle of clothing fashion, 
spurred by capitalism, has been whirling since the court of Burgundy 
in the late Middle Ages and is somehow unique to Western culture. 
To prove this, Davis would have to show how changes of fashion in 
ancient Egypt and Babylonia, Mogul India, or imperial China and 
Japan were dissimilar. But his research into non-European cultures 
is nil. Davis's passing assertions that changing styles in clothing are 
inherently different from changing styles in literature, rock music, 
cars, or coiffures are unconvincing since, again, he has made no 
systematic inquiry into those areas. 

A troublingly high percentage of Davis's material consists of 
long quotations from other authors, which unfortunately constitute 
the best-written passages in the book. In one of the cliches of current 
academic practice, Fashion, Culture, and Identity tries to disguise its 
failures of research and reasoning by jazzy chapter titles ("Boys will 
be Boys, Girls will be Boys") and piquant epigraphs. Then we are 
left on our own to thrash around in the jumbled, repetitious text, 
with its vague chronology and tortured English. 

Davis's introductory chapter hails semiotics as our future sal- 
vation, in particular "its seminal notion of code as the binding lig- 
ament in the shared understandings that comprise a sphere of 
discourse." Leaving aside the flurry of mixed metaphors here, one 
notes the provincialism of this widespread belief: self-strangling se- 
miotics did not invent the idea of "code," which was already central 
to anthropology, comparative religion, and art history, notably in 
Erwin Panofsky's theory of iconography, which has heavily influ- 
enced scholarship and classroom teaching for over fifty years. 

Western culture, claims Davis, suffers from ambiguity and am- 
bivalence of identity, which our ever-changing fashions serve to ex- 
plore and express. This is a promising idea, but Davis's learning is 
not wide enough to do it justice. He has little familiarity with modern 
psychology or ancient Western history. Vague generalizations about 
Western identity that begin with medieval France and can't take in 
Sophocles, Catullus, or Nero are useless. Davis also makes wild 



overstatements about the prevalence of androgyny or cross-dressing 
in Western fashion, which has been only a sporadic phenomenon 
geared to specific transformations in sex roles. He is right to insist 
that fashion signifies far more than status, but he never fully nails 
down what that "more" is. 

In a chapter with the promising title "The Dialectic of the Erotic 
and the Chaste," Davis again shows his limitations. Jean Fouquet's 
fifteenth-century painting of a stylish enthroned Virgin with a bared 
breast is simplistically underinterpreted for its "erotic-chaste ten- 
sion." Here, as throughout the book, Judeo-Christianity is treated 
as a huge, monolithic, body-denying, sex-hating institution. The 
differences between Mediterranean Catholicism and Northern Eu- 
ropean Protestantism, or among different denominations of Prot- 
estantism, are not seen. Nor does Davis have the slightest inkling 
about similar conflations of exhibition and concealment in the pagan 
tradition: the virginal Archaic kore sculptures, the bare-breasted 
"Dying Amazon," the stately, bosomy, lounging goddesses of the 
Parthenon pediment, with their plastered, wet-look draperies, and 
the Hellenistic bathing Aphrodites, leading up to the Roman "Venus 
Pudica," or modest Venus, revived by Botticelli. 

In "Stages of the Fashion Process," Davis tries to analyze the 
dynamics of the fashion industry from the designer's initiating idea 
through its material embodiment and display to the manufacturing 
of scaled-down versions of the garment for distribution to middle- 
class stores. But he bounces all over the map, with no feeling for 
period or place. We get newspaper cuttings and bland quotes from 
anonymous interviewees thrown in at random, and end up with a 
mushy pudding that will enlighten no one. For heaven's sake, the 
mechanics of the rag trade are common knowledge to us through 
dozens of movies and television mini-series. Susan Hayward has it 
all down in / Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951). 

The fashion advertisements sprinkled through the book are strik- 
ing and well-chosen, but Davis's commentary on them is usually 
inadequate or just plain wrong. For example, he misses all the com- 
plexities in the appealing jacket photo of a straw-haired gamine in 
a baseball cap: Huckleberry Finn, Li'l Abner, Jean Seberg, and 1950s 
beatniks (fisherman sweater and leotards). He grandly dubs the chic 



beard stubble of a young dude in a Perry Ellis suit a "disingenuous 
mistake," when it's an allusion to Jean-Paul Belmondo and 1930s 
gangster films. 

I found this book tedious, uninformed, and unperceptive, first 
because, as a student twenty-five years ago, I grounded my own 
thinking about clothing in the excellent, rich, and still reliable fashion 
histories produced from the late nineteenth century to the second 
world war by such shrewd analysts as J. C. Flugel and James Laver. 
Second, I have been heavily influenced by gay men, with their keen 
sensitivity to and encyclopedic knowledge of the art of fashion and 
gesture, a connoisseurship of aesthetes descending through Oscar 
Wilde from Gautier and Baudelaire. 

The witty gay style, dramatic and incisive, is our best hope for 
a sophisticated fashion discourse free from the moralistic anti-beauty 
ideology of establishment feminism and the incompetence and 
theory-mad cant of the "cultural studies" movement, from which 
Davis's work has emerged. Afternoon tea with your average drag 
queen is likely to be more rewarding and informative about fashion 
than is this choppy, meandering, confused book. 




Warren Farrell, author of The Liberated Man and Why Men Are 
the Way They Are, served for three years on the board of directors of 
the National Organization for Women in New York City. In his 
latest book, The Myth of Male Power, he describes how his career as 
one of "America's Sensitive New Age Men" skyrocketed when he 
endorsed the standard feminist view of women as "enlightened" and 
of men as "Neanderthals." He received standing ovations, lecture 
invitations, financial rewards. 

But, Farrell states, as his position evolved toward one more 
sympathetic to men, the applause died and the money began to dry 
up. Reviewing tapes from his workshops and personal appearances, 
Farrell was troubled by his earlier double standard: "When women 
criticized men, I called it 'insight,' 'assertiveness,' 'women's liber- 
ation,' 'independence,' or 'high self-esteem.' When men criticized 
women, I called it 'sexism,' 'male chauvinism,' 'defensiveness,' 'ra- 
tionalizing,' and 'backlash.' . . . Soon the men were no longer ex- 
pressing their feelings. Then I criticized the men for not expressing 
their feelings!" 

The Myth of Male Power is a quirky book, part confession, part 

[Washington Post Book World, July 25, 1993] 



polemic. Its organization, consisting of short passages with blazing 
headlines and overabundant boldface type, is somewhat awkward, 
choppy, and repetitious. Systematic argumentation is scanted, and 
there is sometimes a questionable selectiveness or credulity about 
historical sources, both present and past. 

But FarrelPs vices as a writer are also his virtues. His gruff, 
blunt manner breaks through the decorous white middle-class con- 
ventions and victim-obsessed sentimentality that have paralyzed es- 
tablishment feminism in recent years. The Myth of Male Power is a 
bombshell. It attacks the unexamined assumptions of feminist dis- 
course with shocking candor and forces us to see our everyday world 
from a fresh perspective. 

Farrell feels that feminism's primary objective as a political 
movement — equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by the 
Fourteenth Amendment — has been lost in the "anti-male sexism" 
of affirmative action programs and other preferential regulations and 
grievance procedures that guarantee special protections to women 
and thus ironically perpetuate the pernicious old stereotype of 
"woman as child." The media, far from opposing and obstructing 
feminism (as Susan Faludi claims in Backlash), has cynically pan- 
dered to feminist pressure groups and indulged in "a quarter century 
of male bashing." As a student of media, I think Farrell is dead 
right about this. 

In brutal, grisly language, Farrell dramatizes the carnage of 
"male-killing" throughout history — the one million men, for ex- 
ample, slain or maimed at the Battle of the Somme in World War I. 
Men are not, he insists, the powerful sex but "the silent sex" and 
"the suicide sex." They are "disposable," dispensable, slaves to 
higher powers. Men have sacrificed and crippled themselves phys- 
ically and emotionally to feed, house, and protect women and chil- 
dren. None of their pain or achievement is registered in feminist 
rhetoric, which portrays men as oppressors and callous exploiters. 

Farrell's blistering indictment makes powerful use of contem- 
porary anecdotes. During the 1991 trial of boxer Mike Tyson for 
rape, the hotel where the jury was sequestered caught fire; two 
firefighters died. The media, obsessed with the tunnel-vision feminist 
view of "men-as-rapists," ignored this contrary evidence of "men- 
as-saviors." According to Farrell, there are a million municipal vol- 



unteer firefighters in America who valiantly "risk their lives to save 
strangers." A startling fact that should disturb and embarrass every 
feminist: 99 percent of these firefighters are male. 

Again and again, Farrell demonstrates that, for all the official 
talk about desiring equality, the overwhelming majority of contem- 
porary women continue to avoid hazardous, dirty, low-prestige jobs 
that men take in order to earn a higher income for their families. 
Miners, loggers, roofers, garbage collectors: Farrell celebrates the 
invisible men whose backbreaking and sometimes fatal work makes 
modern life smooth and efficient for pampered, feminism-spouting 
professionals in their safe, well-lit offices. 

The Myth of Male Power is a muckraking expose for the nineties. 
It uncovers an unsettling pattern of collusion between government- 
funded commissions on women and a coterie of feminist leaders and 
career consultants who claim to speak for all women. It demonstrates 
how biased surveys and shaky statistics have been used to swell the 
numbers of reported rapes or prove discrimination against women 
in employment, medical research, and the justice system. It quotes 
astonishing pieces of gloomy, anti-male agitprop from such putative 
reference works as Encyclopedia of Feminism and The Women's History 
of the World. 

In the largest sense, Farrell sees contemporary gender problems 
as flowing from our historical transition from an epoch ("Stage I") 
where survival was the basic issue to one ("Stage II") where com- 
munication and cooperation, rather than competition, are required. 
Here Farrell's theories dovetail with the best in feminist theory: he 
sees the killer male as a dominant Stage I type unable to adapt to 
Stage II economic and ethical realities. Now we have a pressing 
need "not for a women's movement or a men's movement but for 
a gender transition movement" that would revolutionize both be- 
havior and perception. 

The Myth of Male Power is the kind of original, abrasive, heretical 
text that is desperately needed to restore fairness and balance to the 
present ideology-sodden curriculum of women's studies courses. De- 
spite its technical flaws and raw inelegance, the book is filled with 
stunning insights and haunting aphorisms, such as "female beauty 
is the world's most potent drug." 

Warren Farrell is one of many voices urging a critique and 



reform of current feminism in order to strengthen it for the twenty- 
first century. As Farrell says, "discrimination begets discrimination 
begets discrimination." Equality means not just "equal options" but 
"equal obligations," a rejection of the passive role of perpetual vic- 
tim. Government must not become modern woman's "substitute 
husband." Farrell calls for an end to the blame game and a new 
stress on personal responsibility, social maturity, and self- 



When Spy asked me to write an advice column, I was delighted. I've 
loved this snappy American genre since I grew up reading tart- 
tongued Ann Landers in the Fifties — I even made up both the ques- 
tions and the answers for satiric advice columns in my high school 
newspaper. The following letters are authentic, though sometimes 


Dear Camille: 

I've been with a woman for ten years. Should I propose mar- 
riage? My concerns are (1) her loathsome, self-pitying complaints 
and (2) my suspicion that I could not remain faithful. 

Despondent in Oregon 

Dear Despondent: 

The crystal ball shows a tacky picture of a nag and a philanderer 
hurling crockery around the kitchen. Misery has enough company 
already. In fact, they're parking on my lawn. 

[Spy, 1993. Though locations are real, Paglia supplied all but three of the 

closing epithets.] 



Dear Camille: 

What can I do with this PoMo relationship of mine? My boy- 
friend is a stand-up comic constantly touring the country. I'll be in 
grad school for the next four years. Can long-distance relationships 

Down-at-the-Mouth Dan in Northern California 

Dear Dan: 

I foresee many a moon of quick-fix, laugh-a-minute phone sex. 
Every relationship is a triumph of imagination. Yours will be tested 
to the credit limit. 

Dear Camille: 

I'm an overeducated, underemployed, bored and bisexual, fit 
and femme woman of the twentynothing generation. I fall for 
scrumptious young men "raised right" by their mothers. They're 
intrigued, then intimidated by my ferocity in bed. I'm in love with 
a sensitive, affectionate boy who is scared to death of me. Should I 
forget my affinity for boys and find myself a feisty female? 

Too Sexy for the Boy in Baton Rouge 

Dear Too Sexy: 

This is a classic case of the Diana and Endymion myth: a ma- 
ternal Amazon goddess smacking her lips over androgynous boy- 
flesh. I'd say keep him as a side dish and supplement the menu with 
more robust confections. As for feisty females, I hope you have better 
luck than I do! 

Dear Camille: 

I've been severely disappointed in my lady friends, who come 
across as intelligent women with common sense but end up making 
bad choices when it comes to men. 

Jolted Joe from Brooklyn 

Dear Joe: 

You are puzzled by the irrational perversity of sexual attraction. 
Dionysus is a maelstrom. Love will never be tidy or safe. Jump in 
the boat and row for your life. 



Dear Camille: 

My fiancee and I revere you as a goddess. I once had an un- 
healthy, mutually manipulative relationship. Two weeks after we 
stopped speaking, she came into my dorm room to talk. We started 
to fool around. She seemed to be enjoying it, though when I asked 
if she wanted to have sex, she said, "I don't care." I went ahead 
and had sex with her. She later publicly denounced me as a rapist. 
But she never resisted or even told me to stop. Was it rape? 

Confused in Kansas City 

Dear Confused: 

No, it's not rape. It's a scene from an Antonioni movie, all 
Weltschmerz and ennui. Feminist dogma keeps people from recog- 
nizing good old-fashioned decadence. Go for it! 


Dear Camille: 

I'm a sixty-year-old man who has been married five times. I'm 
currently courting a fifty-three-year-old Catholic medical missionary 
nun. How do I ask her to give up her vows and marry me? 

Amorous in Sarasota 

Dear Amorous: 

Hot dang! Violate them taboos, baby! You're Perseus rescuing 
Andromeda from the toils of that old devil Church. You may need 
a can opener, but it's worth a tumble. 

Dear Camille: 

I'm a biochemist who must keep up by attending lectures that 
contain fast-breaking data. The leader in our field shows nude slides 
of his girlfriends during his lectures and provides copies to men who 
request them. Women have walked out of his lectures, protested to 
the hosts, thrown things at the screen, to no avail. What does this 
man gain from our discomfort? What should we do? 

Stumped in Toledo 

Dear Stumped: 

Unfortunately, I enjoy nude pictures in any context. A bio- 



chemical porn show has Broadway possibilities. But the guy sounds 
like an unprofessional klutz with a microchip wee-wee. Try scorn 
and satire. They work for me. 

Dear Camille: 

If you were really born in 1947, why do you look as though you 
were born in 1937 or even 1927? I want to avoid whatever you did 
to get those deep, saggy lines! 

Bilious in Maryland 

Dear Bilious: 

Listen, pinhead, I'm a short, fast-talking comedienne with dim- 
ples who imitates Keith Richards to avoid looking like Sally Field. 
Get lost! Haggard is hip. 

Dear Camille: 

Women I hardly know come up to me all the time and give me 
that deep, knowing, womanly look. I feel these women have a terrible 
power over me. Should I just screw them? Does it matter that they're 
my students? 

Baffled on Long Island 

Dear Baffled: 

The gals (white and middle-class, right?) are battin' their 
eyes at Big Daddy. You've discovered the truth: Sexual harass- 
ment is a hot-tar, two-way street. Wait till they graduate, then dive 
right in. 

Dear Camille: 

I used to think Rousseau was the stupidest asshole in the history 
of philosophy. Now that I'm getting on in years, I wonder if I would 
have found assholes of greater magnitude if I'd pursued that subject 
further. Who is el sphinctero grande of all time? 

Curious in San Francisco 

Dear Curious: 

Michel Foucault, naturellement! 


40 1 

Dear Camille: 

I know that consumerism is the modern pagan religion and that 
the media is the altar upon which we offer up flesh sacrifices. I do 
enjoy watching the succession of heroes and heroines devoured by 
television. But I have lingering feelings of guilt, as if I am worshiping 
Satan. Yes, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night shouting, 
"Consumerism is the Beast 666!" How can I loosen up, become 
more modern, and enjoy life? 

Anguished in Oregon 

Dear Anguished: 

I prescribe a daily dose of my favorite soap, The Young and the 
Restless. What metaphysical anxiety could survive the soothing pres- 
ence of plucky Nikki, trampy Jill, and teen queen Christine? Tele- 
vision is our Circe, and she's a date rapist. Just lay back, relax, and 
spread your sense organs. 

Dear Camille: 

The first time we met, the electricity was unbelievable. I'm 
married and white; he's black and ten years younger. He's also my 
boss. After two years of flirting, we became lovers. We have nothing 
in common but work and sex. Our Baptist-Cracker conservative 
company doesn't condone intraoffice or interracial dating. I can't 
stop thinking about him. I'm a headstrong, independent, take-charge 
woman. So why can't I handle this relationship? Why am I so 

Reeling in Fort Lauderdale 

Dear Reeling: 

Sex is the biggest electric company of them all. It shocks, short- 
circuits, overloads, and generally fries the brains. When the wires go 
underground, they raise their own voltage. It's like snake-handling: 
Keep at it till the chills outnumber the thrills. 




To the many readers who asked me for a date: 

I am reviewing applications from all genders. But why hasn't 
Drew Barrymore written to me yet? 

Dear Camille: 

I'm in my late twenties and haunt L.A. coffeehouses searching 
for an intellectually stimulating female partner among the patrons. 
But I find myself more attracted to the waitresses. In the Male- 
Confused-Nineties, I fear that making advances on these working 
women is sexual harassment. Is it wrong to flirt with them? 

Anxious Alex 

Dear Anxious: 

I too get starry-eyed over waitresses. I suspect there is a Cosmic 
Mammary archetype behind all this. Waitresses have more on the 
ball, anyhow, than the chi-chi literati you're pursuing. Proceed cau- 
tiously, but give it a shot. 

Dear Camille: 

I'm an attractive twenty-three-year-old gay male. In bars, I 
notice that attractive men usually have ugly boyfriends. Why is this? 
How am I supposed to get a boyfriend when all the good ones are 
dating Ernest Borgnine look-alikes? When I do meet someone who 
doesn't need a bag over his head, he turns out to be a flaky, slutty 

Single in Seattle 

Dear Single: 

A lesson of eros — only one megastar per household, please. 
Every god needs a priest in polyester. 

Dear Camille: 

Two buddies of mine who live thousands of miles from each 
other were unceremoniously dumped a couple of years ago by their 
girlfriends. Right after chucking their excess baggage, both girls 



adopted all the significant traits of their former boyfriends. One 
went from being a pampered trust-fund baby who read Woolf and 
subscribed to trendy political causes to being an ardent backpacker 
in love with Conrad. The other changed her major from environ- 
mental science to classical anthropology and philosophy and her 
music from Depeche Mode to the Lime Spiders. You get the picture. 
Why would these women become the men they no longer love? 

Musing in Kankakee 

Dear Musing: 

I am stunned by this colorful evidence of the ancient principle 
of female vampirism, recorded everywhere in world mythology. Hav- 
ing sucked men dry, like marrow from a bone, woman calmly sails 
on to her next adventure. Sublime! 

Dear Camille: 

I supplement my unemployment checks by selling phone-sex 
scripts. I'd rather sell short stories, but nobody's buying. I seem to 
have a knack for cranking the stuff out. But I don't know whether 
to think of myself as a cheap media whore or a valuable public 
servant. Nothing gobs up the creative flow more than the image 
of a fat, lonely, middle-aged insurance salesman lying on his bed 
and pulling on his weenie while he listens to my words coming over 
the line. He and millions of other schmucks may need the help of 
a prosthetic imagination. Perhaps I am helping to release poten- 
tially dangerous sexual energy in a quick, tidy gush at the end of 
the day. 

Pondering in Portland 

Dear Pondering: 

Though it might seem like a drainage ditch, you too labor in 
the vineyards of art. Apollo and Aphrodite bless all makers of erotic 

Dear Camille: 

My lesbian girlfriend and I have a running argument about 
the last scene in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood. I guess I'm WASPy 



and prosaic, but I think it's about having sex with a dog. My 
lover is French, however, and claims she cannot understand it this 
way, having read Lacan and Derrida. The argument becomes so 
heated that I wonder if I can live with a poststructuralist. What can 
I do? 

Stymied in North Carolina 

Dear Stymied: 

How did your poststructuralist escape deportation? I heard 
they were reclassified as illegal aliens. Take her to McDonald's 
and deprogram her. If that doesn't work, box her and return to 


Dear Camille: 

I have no trouble getting women in bed, but I just can't hold 
back. The evening ends before I can undo my belt. 

Mortified in Madison 

Dear Mortified: 

You overeager acolytes of the Goddess have an ancient lineage. 
At Cnidos, Praxiteles' famous marble statue of Aphrodite was 
stained by a worshiper's ejaculation. Curtail your excitement by 
imagining something depressing — like being trapped in an elevator 
with the leaders of NOW. 

Dear Camille: 

I'm a thirty-five-year-old married woman. Lately I've been eye- 
ing the kinds of guys I liked when I was fifteen: lean, long-haired, 
vacant, flannel-shirt-wearing hunks. May I have one? 

Lustful in Los Angeles 

Dear Lustful: 

You mirror my mood exactly. Gather ye flannel while ye may. 
When lust unbridles, can menopause be far behind? 



Dear Camille: 

Recently I went camping in the Catskills with three buddies. 
One night I put out the campfire by urinating on it. I thought my 
friends would applaud my decisive, manly gesture, but they pro- 
tested loudly. The whole experience left me feeling hollow. 

Dejected in New York 

Dear Dejected: 

Freud felt urinary fire-extinguishing was early man's first proof 
of prowess. Today, writing girls' names in the snow is the more 
favored piss poetry. Expand your repertoire! 

Dear Camille: 

I'm a female who has rape fantasies featuring ex-convicts, aliens, 
postapocalyptic mutant gang leaders, etc. While I invent dialogue 
for both sexes, I feel more "inside" the male character, even after 
the female has gained the upper hand, which always happens. Am 
I bisexual, sadomasochistic or just strange? 

Is This Hell? No, This Is Iowa 

Dear Hell-in-Iowa: 

Make movies as soon as possible. Surf's up in your sharkish 
libido. It's the cyberpunk 1990s, so take us for a ride on the wild 

Dear Camille: 

I'm a big WASP boy who has an ongoing thing with an older, 
burly Sicilian man. He's on the jealous side and says he would "cut 
out my heart" if he caught me with another man. But he admits 
having fantasies about watching me in the act with someone else. 
Another Sicilian man has come into the picture. Have I bit off more 
than I can chew? 

Italophile in California 

Dear Italophile: 

Two Sicilians, one knife, and a hunk of white bread. Hmmm. 



Better keep your panettone covered and your eye on the nearest fire 

Dear Camille: 

What's your advice about the ever-popular male pastime of 
verbally harassing women on the street? My gut instinct is to snap 
back with "Fuck off," but it's interpreted as an invitation to further 

Irate in Chicago 

Dear Irate: 

Nothing made me angrier during my militant-lesbian-feminist 
phase twenty years ago. I now feel the street is a combat zone and 
modern women should not expect middle-class overprotection. 
Men's guttural lunges are primal mating rituals, a crude homage. 
Take the mentally superior position of mother or teacher and respond 
with quiet withering boredom or comic repartee. I've seen African- 
American women dish it right back with humor, not rage, and win 
the exchange. 

Dear Camille: 

I'm a twenty-five-year-old full-blooded Italian rock musician. I 
had a deep, loving, sexually hot relationship for three years with a 
woman nine years older. Since we broke up, I've dated and slept 
with a lot of girls. But (1) they're total intellectual duds; (2) their 
idea of sex is lying in bed like a cadaver; or (3) they complain about 
their lives but don't have the balls to do anything about it. I'm so 
frustrated that sometimes I wish I were gay! 

Glum in L.A. 

Dear Glum: 

I sympathize. A good gal is hard to find, and don't I know it. 
It seems your taste buds are primed for more mature wine. (See 
American Gigolo and "Lustful," above.) 




Dear Camille: 

I was making love with a beautiful feminist grad student. As 
we climaxed I mentioned your name, causing every muscle in her 
body to tense up immediately. It was the best orgasm in my life. I 
realize I was exploiting your name, but do you mind? 

Wondering in West Hollywood 

Dear Wondering: 

Your partner's Harpy-like clutching is called vaginismus. Pop- 
ular myth tells of men trapped and requiring surgical extrication. 
Use and abuse my name as you please. I love causing friction! 

Dear Camille: 

I'm a bisexual female who passionately loves hard rock and 
heavy-metal music. The guys I like only want the typical "heavy- 
metal bimbos." And gay women spout the usual "feminazi" dogma 
about hard rock being degrading, exploitative, and misogynist. 

Lonely in Iowa 

Dear Lonely: 

Rock 'n' raunch is sexual reality. The new feminism will cut its 
teeth on heavy-metal power chords. Crank up your own wattage, 
and don't take no for an answer. 

Dear Camille: 

As a teenager in the States, I felt extremely abnormal because 
my foreskin was intact. I felt freakish and unpatriotic and suffered. 
What's your opinion of America's assembly-line snippage of infantile 

Feeling Normal in Frankfurt 

Dear Normal: 

Cut or uncut? Torpedo or lampshade? That is the question. In 
this deodorant-obsessed land of the bald eagle, gleaming Mr. Clean 
is our naughty little flesh-puppet. 



Dear Camille: 

I was involved with a comp lit major for seven years and was 
haunted by a sense of failure for not understanding the "conference 
cant" of the Derrida posse. Luckily I escaped the California infes- 
tation of these maniacs, but not before this woman had demasculated 
me to the point of premature ejaculation. 

Recuperating in Rancho Mirage 

Dear Recuperating: 

Polluters of the brain commit crimes against humanity. Dante's 
Inferno has a special reserved foxhole for the followers of Lacan, 
Derrida, and Foucault, who will boil for eternity in their own verbal 

Dear Camille: 

When I'm using the office urinal, one of the dorkiest managers 
comes in, stands next to me and talks about the stupidest things. Is 
there a polite way to ignore him, or should I wet his leg? Does this 
problem happen to women? 

Pissed Off in Hackensack 

Dear Pissed Off: 

Women adore gabbing in the john. It's a freaking hen party! 
As for your manager, can it be love? 

Dear Camille: 

After her orgasm from oral sex, my girlfriend starts laughing 
hysterically. What does this mean? Is my hard work being taken 

Concerned in Calgary 

Dear Concerned: 

Bursts of irrational emotion, like weeping, are reported of or- 
gasmic women. Beware of manic Maenads! The female worshipers 
of Dionysus tore goats and heifers limb from limb with their bare 



Dear Camille: 

I'ma twenty- three-year-old gay male who planned to get a sex- 
change operation to make myself more appealing to a straight co- 
worker. My current boyfriend is threatening to leave me because of 
this. Then there's a woman who wants me desperately. 

Wavering in Lompoc 

Dear Wavering: 

I envy your ability to draw a crowd. Your life is a Fellini film 
lacking only Anita Ekberg with a cat on her head. I would advise 
putting the operation on hold. Some merchandise is nonreturnable. 

Dear Camille: 

My girlfriend has started ejaculating and I've stopped. Through 
Tantra, we trade spontaneous combustion for hours-at-a-time ritual, 
with astounding results. Can all women ejaculate? We're talking 
cupfuls — you haven't seen an "arc of transcendence" until a five- 
foot fountain of amrita erupts from your beloved's yoni. 

Electro-Shakti'ed in Kansas City 

Dear Shakti'ed: 

In Coleridge's Xanadu, a geyser blasts up from a chasm, as if 
the earth is in orgasm. Pagan nature cults release titanic energy. 
Female ejaculation is the latest thing, demonstrated by Annie Sprin- 
kle in her sacred-orgy video, Sluts and Goddesses. Bring an umbrella. 


From an edition of Man Alive, with host Peter Downie. Produced by Sam 
Levene and David Cherniak for the Canadian Broadcast Company. Filmed on 
September 4, 1991, in Philadelphia. Aired in Canada December 14, 1992, and 
on public television in the United States in early 1993. 

PETER DOWNIE (in CBC studio in Toronto): Tonight on Man Alive — 

(Cut to pages (^Sexual Personae, then paglia in violet suit.) 

41 O 


CAMILLE PAGLIA (with Downie in Philadelphia): In paganism you have 
a unity between sexuality and spirituality, winch is a great 
ideal. ... I love the sleaziest parts of TV. . . . Madonna and I 
have a pornographic imagination. It's coming from the repres- 
sions of the Catholic Church. ... I feel very lucky that somehow 
I wasn't drawn to drugs. I'm not sure why. I think I'm addicted 
to my own hormones — my adrenalines or whatever they are. 
I'm the speed-freak Sixties, you know? I never had to take any- 
thing, because that's just me, all right? I feel like I'm coming 
out of the Bob Dylan electric period, that kind of, like, speed- 
freak jive, kind of that rap — 

(Back to DOWNIE in Toronto. He freezes PAGLIA'j onscreen image.) 

DOWNIE (laughing): Hi, I'm Peter Downie, and her name is Camille 
Paglia. And this (gestures with the remote control) is about the only 
way I have to stop her. She's been called "Hurricane Camille" 
and the "Joan Rivers of Academe." But make no mistake about 
it: it's her ideas, not her delivery, which have made her the 
hottest critic around, whether she's writing in The New York Times 
or in Penthouse magazine. She has provocative ideas on just about 
everything — from feminism to rock and roil and from Madonna 
to political correctness, and those ideas come at you like fire 
from a machine gun. Her book, Sexual Personae, took twenty years 
to publish, and it's really become a launching pad for her, from 
where she now sits and takes careful critical aim at life. Trying 
to neatly package the energy of her mind for a television program 
is a bit like trying to grasp a bolt of lightning. As soon as you 
think you've got it, it's off in another direction. You might be 
angered by what you're going to hear, and you might be pleased. 
But I don't think you'll be bored — by Camille Paglia. 

(With DOWNIE in Philadelphia) 

PAGLIA: I know that my personality was not made. My personality 
was born. I'm an Aries woman like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, 
and so we have a lot of problems with people because of this. 
We're just so obnoxiousl I'm forty-four years old, and people are 
still having to speak to me like, you know, "That was very rude. 
You shouldn't behave like that, you shouldn't." Even today, 


41 1 

people are always lecturing me about my excessive behavior and 
the way I completely ignore social forms and decorum and so 
on and so forth. So it's been a struggle for me. This is why I see 
society as civilizing. I don't see society as oppressive, because 
in my case, my barbaric energy needs to be contained. It needs 
to be contained. Otherwise, I'd be killing people and, you know, 
stealing and God knows what else! I'm just like this egomaniac. 
I'm an Aries — pure egomania, all right? 

DOWNIE: Let's begin by looking at the Sixties. What happened to 
the realism of the Sixties? What happened to the idealism of the 

PAGLIA: I think the whole thing just got out of control. I think a 
part of it was the contempt for the older generation. In the sense 
that, "We have nothing to do with you, and we have something 
new, something new to ofTer, and we don't have to listen to you 
at all." And part of that came from the fact that our parents — 
one didn't realize it at the time, but as the years went on, I saw 
it very clearly — our parents were resting, after decade after dec- 
ade of the Depression, the rise of Fascism and Nazism, World 
War II, the bomb, the discovery of the concentration camps, 
the Cold War and so on. And our parents wanted a better life 
for their children than they had had. They had had nothing since 
they were young but worry, but anxiety, but darkness, all right? 
So they were determined to create an environment that would 
protect their children from what they had suffered. As a con- 
sequence, they did not tell us about the realities of the world. 

And I think that's what I felt like growing up in the Fifties. 
I thought, what? This is so boring! This is so sanitized. I can't 
stand this! I felt like I was in prison in the sex roles of the Fifties, 
in the politics of the Fifties. I mean I'm still claustrophobic from 
it. We have this TV series down here, you know, Happy Days, 
which has given a very biased picture of what the Fifties were 
like. This idea that somehow, you know, a black-jacketed guy 
like Fonzie could be received at the house of the red-haired boy, 
okay — that's absurd! The hoods could never be received! There 
was absolutely a repressive era where the hoods represented the 
criminality and sexuality and everything that was outlaw, all 



right? And so I feel The Twilight Zone very accurately represents 
the Fifties' instability, that is, a sense of normality which is then 
disturbed by eruptions of what has been repressed, okay, what 
has been repressed in the cellar, what has been put up in the 
attic. And I feel that my work — in Sexual Personae, I feel that 
what I'm doing is going down into the cellar and up into the 
attic and bringing into the eyes of everyone what our parents 
did not want to think about. Everything. Whether it's pornog- 
raphy or aggression or Nazism, you know, the inner aggression 
of the human soul, the inner evil of the human soul. 

So I think that our parents' reaction was excessive. That that 
tranquillity was a false tranquillity. The sunny Rousseauist op- 
timism of the Fifties, the normality of the Fifties — that was an 
excessive reaction to something that had been excessive. And 
then our reaction was excessive to the Fifties, and out of that 
came another excess, the conservative backlash. But I think 
we're waking up from everything now. It's the end of the century, 
it's the end of the millennium, all right? We're reassessing. And 
/feel there is something happening. I have been saying my ideas 
for twenty years. No one listened. I couldn't get published. I 
couldn't get hired. And suddenly, people are listening and un- 
derstanding what I'm saying. And it suggests to me that there 
is a kind of cyclical pattern at work, and we've gone through a 
full cycle, and we're coming back. 

DOWNIE: Well, so there was excess, but I'd rather have excess with 
passion than no passion. 

PAGLIA: But the point is, it self-destructed, and you had a conser- 
vative backlash. It's something much worse that happened, okay? 
Because law and order must go on. We must have law and 
order. We cannot have a situation where everyone does his own 
thing. We cannot have rioting in the streets. One has to be 
realistic about achieving political aims. What I have learned is 
how slowly institutions change. And in fact, if an institution 
would change rapidly, that's fascism. I began to realize that 
slowness — which I hated when I was young — that the slow, boring 
movement of the law in the courts is what prevents mob hysteria 
from lynching you, okay? Because I felt it myself. [She is refer- 



ring to the violation of due process at Bennington College.] I 
am very obnoxious still, and I'm still — I mean, just yesterday 
I was, like, carrying on in a meeting and so on. 

But the thing is now I'm more realistic. I understand that 
institutions change slowly. So my thing is not now, "We want 
the world, we want it now!" My thing is — all right, one year 
from now, if I keep on, you know, steadily, two years from now, 
it'll change. And I also had to learn how to pick my fights. My 
thing was, like, everything! I had endless energy. Ooh, people 
think I'm energetic now! I am a shadow, a shadow! I had so 
much energy I could stay up all night. And my thing was this 
issue! That issue! That issue! Now I've learned how to pick my 
fights and also how to present in a way that does not alienate 
the very people I need for a consensus in order to get my aim 
achieved. And that's maturity. . . . 

DOWNIE (in studio): Camille Paglia doesn't look down her academic 
nose at television or movies or sports or rock and roll. In fact, 
it's just the opposite. Her seven-hundred-page book was written 
while she enjoyed them all — sometimes simultaneously! So if 
you're tempted to yell at your child for having the stereo or the 
television too loud when homework is being done, consider this. 

PAGLIA (in Philadelphia): Technology for me — see, this is one of the 
ironies of my generation. Our generation was looking to nature 
and being very disrespectful about society and about capitalism. 
At the same time (laughing), it was the most electronic and electrified 
generation in history. I was the first person that I knew to have 
a stereo, to go to college with a stereo in 1964. No one had 
stereos. Now everyone has every kind of music-making equip- 
ment. And I had the earphones — I was completely plugged in. 
And this is my attitude toward the world. On the one hand, I 
see all of nature and I honor it — the moon, the stars, the planets, 
all of that. As an astrologer, I just see it so clearly. But then, I 
cannot go anywhere when, you know, I just feel so happy at 
home, when I have the TV on and I have the music, the ear- 
phones on. I have the telephone, and I have the radio on, and 
the wires are crossing the floor, and I'm always tripping over 
the wires. And I just feel like I'm in this kind of space capsule, 



you know. I'm just totally connected to the universe, and I think 
that's part of the universality of our vision — the fact that we're 
connected into the universe through all this electronic machinery. 

DOWNIE: But you're only connecting with an electronic universe, 
not the natural one. 

PAGLIA: No, not really, because I think that on cable TV you can 
flick one channel, and you'll see animals in Africa, you'll see 
things in nature. That's the way of God himself, checking in on 
what's happening on every possible station in the entire universe! 
I think this is definitely the wave of the future. I feel that tech- 
nology offers the Western version of expanded consciousness, 
all right? Because my ability to simply concentrate with all this 
going on, with a sensory flood of stimuli — that is what's different 
about my brain, okay, from the brains of the scholars who came 
before me. Because one part of my brain is totally rigorous and 
analytic in the traditional way. The other part is this electrified 
brain that people have found no machine to measure yet. It's 
completely lurid. It's like neon. It's like this, all right? (vibrates 
hand near head) My ability to think in the face of, incredible noise, 
for example — people say, "How can you think with that noise?" 
But I can only think when there's noise. I have to flood my senses 
in order to really think, all right? 

I feel that the brain has many tracks. Everyone in my gen- 
eration — for thirty-five years I've been listening to rock music! All 
of rock music has gone through this head again and again and 
again. It's all in there. And so I feel that I have a track in my 
brain. I wake up in the morning, it's playing. It's constantly 
playing music, all right? Then I have another one that's a visual 
track. So I love to write when I have the earphones on, listening 
to music. It could be classical music, it could be movie music — 
I love, like, Ben-Hur and all those great scores. It could be rock, 
or it's disco, which I love when I'm writing. All kinds of things. 
And then I have the soap operas on without the sound, okay? 
So I have the sound going very loud, and I have the images 
coming into my brain. If I don't have it, I can't concentrate. If 
I am trying to write without the sound and without the images, 


41 5 

my mind wanders. I have to supply it. I have to supply the music; 
I have to supply the images, okay? 

So I'm saying that our brains are completely different. It's 
something new, and I think we're moving outward toward that 
moment when we leave the earth and go into outer space. Star 
Trek was a great phenomenon of my generation. Let's say we 
have to take forty years for a person to get from earth to some 
planet. People will be born and will live and will die in space 
capsules, okay? And it was my generation which was the first, 
through this technological machinery, to be able to have a sense 
of being a citizen of the universe. We are citizens of the universe. 
We have a truly international perspective through TV and 
through technology. 

It's very interesting: they use metaphors like this in Buddhism 
and so on — the idea that the mind should be like a still pond 
receiving messages from the universe. That's exactly how I feel 
when I'm looking at TV, all right? I go completely blank (sweeps 
open hand over face in "cut" gesture), absolutely blank. And that's 
why it's so refreshing to me. And I just want to sit there and 
go completely blank. Like, after I've had dinner, and I've had 
a glass of wine, you know, I'm just sitting there with Enter- 
tainment Tonight, and suddenly there's this completely glitzy, 
sensationalized story — I just love that! I have such pleasure at 
it, okay? And I can feel that it's palpating a part of my brain 
that's not the other part of the brain, (goes all daffy I misty, imi- 
tating it) You know, there's Liz Taylor, coming out of the hos- 
pital again! And it's like that area of sleazy eroticism and so 
on. I just feel it, right? The TV is literally an emanation, in some 
sense, of the popular mind. I feel that everything on TV is of 
interest to me. I love advertisements. I just wrote an essay talk- 
ing about ads as an art form. I love (snaps her fingers) the speed 
of them — 

DOWNIE: But it really is the medium, isn't it? I mean, you're saying 
that television itself is important. 

PAGLIA: Yes, the medium itself. I love the sleaziest parts of TV. I 
mean, some academics like to say, "Oh, yes, I like PBS," or "I 



like these documentaries." (snorts scornfully) That's not my atti- 
tude! Or they want to talk ponderously about the problems with 
the news programs. Well, that's not what / regard as TV, you 
know? I regard TV as this river, (makes flowing motion with hand) 
It's like a river of images, okay? Especially now with cable. You 
can get like thirty-seven different channels, and you can go . . . 
sometimes I just sit there and go zap! (flips imaginary remote control) 
Zap! Zap! Zap! It's like an art form, where you have this weird 
collage, you see, of completely discontinuous images. 

You'll go from the face of a religious figure, you know, holding 
the Bible, then suddenly the next thing, a girl dancing with her 
boobs hanging out of her bra, like that (raises arms and does a 
shimmy). I think, this is fabulous! This is the culture! The way we 
have all these strange things which cannot formally come to- 
gether — these two figures, the evangelist preacher and the strip- 
per, let's say. Those two people can never meet. But television 
brings them together. They are both aspects of reality, and 
therefore the mind of the person watching TV is this universal 
mind. So I feel totally open. I try to have an attitude of total 
openness to everything I see. And I have such enjoyment, such 
sensuous pleasure of enjoyment, okay, in watching television. And 
the colors, the movements, everything about it, everything which 
strikes very book-oriented people as tinsely or squalid and so 
on. Those very things are exactly why I love TV! 

DOWNIE (in studio): From television to belly dancing to striptease to 
pornography, Camille Paglia writes and teaches about popular 
culture and sexuality. Where is there a place for the sacred in 
her world? 

PAGLIA (in Philadelphia): I'm saying, in Sexual Personae, that Western 
culture has been formed by this tension between the Judeo- 
Christian and the Greco-Roman traditions. And that it is not 
true that Judeo-Christianity ever defeated paganism. In fact, pa- 
ganism went underground and has erupted at various moments: 
at the Renaissance, in Renaissance art; in Romanticism; and 
now again in modern popular culture. And that paganism does 
indeed have a spirituality. In paganism you have a unity be- 


41 "7 

tween sexuality and spirituality, which is a great ideal. Chris- 
tianity was not able to do this, because it regards nature as a 
fallen realm and our bodies as belonging to that fallen realm. 
The soul is, you know, the thing that was created in God's divine 
image, so the closer you can come to God, the less sexual you 
are. And this produced the monasticism, of course, and celibacy 
of the Middle Ages. 

So yes indeed, that's what I'm trying to show in my work. 
I'm trying to show the actual spiritual vision that's inherent in 
this highly eroticized point of view that paganism had, all right? 
And it's so difficult for people to understand this. Like I regard 
all strip tease or belly dancing today as part of that long line, 
coming down from when dance was sacred in the cult around 
the Great Mother. This is really true, you know, that belly 
dancing is the last remnant of this long tradition going back. 
These movements of the hips, the overtly sensual and provoc- 
ative pelvic motions of the belly dancer — to provoke (laughs) the 
fatigued libido of the various sultans and caliphs — all that goes 
back to the temple prostitutes around the Great Mother, in the 
ancient Near East and so on. 

It's difficult for people trained in Judeo-Christianity to look 
at overt sexuality and regard it as in any way having anything 
to do with God, all right? But it does. In Hinduism, there are 
temples in India which have copulating nude couples, sometimes 
threes and fours, on the temple. I am entirely pro-pornography. 
When I look at pornography, for example, I see the energies of 
nature, all right? For Hinduism, those are creative and fertile 
energies. People who look at pornography and see simply 
oppression, see male dominance and female submission! — 
which, by the way, is completely false about pornography. 
That's simply not true. Often it's exactly the reverse. 

DOWNIE (in gallery of ancient sculpture): For years, Camille Paglia's 
colleagues tried to avoid her, despite having impeccable cre- 
dentials from Yale University. She jiist didn't seem to fit in. But 
something has happened. Her ideas are now noticed and de- 
bated, and not just by academics. Her book, Sexual Personae, is 



available in paperback now, and it continues to sell amazingly 
well. But while her ideas are reaching more and more people, 
she remains an enigma. And she finds comfort in history. 

PAGLIA (in Philadelphia): From my earliest years, I feel I was such 
an alienated being — I think from my rebellion against my sex 
role in the early Fifties. Right from the start, I felt when as a 
tiny child I went to the museum, the Metropolitan Museum, 
and I saw the great artifacts from Egypt and so on, I always 
felt, from the study of history, that they gave me a kind of 
perspective upon my own culture. It allowed me to see my own 
identity in a larger frame of reference. And I think that the study 
of history has been for me — my early passion was to be an 
archaeologist, an Egyptologist — the study of history has been 
for me a liberation from the conventions of my own time. 

downie: For a lot of people, though, I think history is seen as 
something to be overcome, and your point is that it's something 
that has to be appreciated and delved into and brought to bear 
on what's happening now. 

PAGLIA: That's why I see history in huge rhythms, enormously long 
rhythms. That's why I think most people are just trapped in the 
present. If you don't understand the whole path, you can't see 
where we're going, because you don't see where we've been. So 
I just see these huge rhythms operating, and I see that popular 
culture has been this enormous transformation that happened, 
I feel in the 1920s, with the birth of sound pictures. That was 
the moment when, I think, high art lost its exclusive status, and 
popular culture took over. And I think we're still in this rhythm, 
but I believe that we're still in the Romantic rhythm. 

My mentor Harold Bloom also believes this, that we're still 
in the Romantic era. That is, the movement initiated by Rous- 
seau's ideas in 1760. So that's what I see — one long huge pat- 
tern. Rock and roll is simply, you know, another eruption of 
that Romanticism. I see us still in that. And I think that the 
next — to predict, all right? (laughs) — I think the next rhythm will 
be inaugurated by someone from outer space. I mean, when — 
if — we discover another civilization, another planet, if it turns 



out there's evidence for that, then that's the beginning of a new 
phase, I think, when the people of the world, presumably, will 
see that we look more like each other than we do like that 
creature there which looks like a blob of Jell-O, all right? I think 
that that may happen, at a certain point, and I think that that 
may terminate the phase we're in. . . . I often feel when I talk 
to people who are older than me, a generation older than me, 
academics and so on, that their brains are very slow, okay? Very 
slow. The speed of my mind is part of the stimulation I have 
received from all these sensory things — from rock and roll and 
MTV. When MTV came along, I felt it was exactly the way 
my brain had been operating for the prior twenty years. Flash! 
Flash! Flash! 


CNN & Gouvpdiny , January 12, 1994. Host: Mary Tillotson. Guests: Susan 
Estrich, Susan Milano, and Camille Paglia (in London). On the ongoing trial 
in Virginia of Lorena Bobbitt for severing her husband's penis. 

PAGLIA: I have to say I am not surprised at this new evidence [of 
Lorena Bobbitt having battered her husband]. I have always 
regarded the Bobbitt relationship as a sadomasochistic one on 
both sides — both physically and psychologically. And my opinion 
remains that, on the one hand, I feel that Lorena Bobbitt com- 
mitted a cruel and barbarous act, and a cowardly one, by at- 
tacking her husband while he was asleep. I reject any prior claim 
of victimization. On the other hand, I have to say, I think this 
will be having the effect of a revolutionary act by a woman, 
somewhat equivalent to Charlotte Corday killing Marat in his 
bath just after the French revolution. . . . 

Let me cut in here. I absolutely agree with Susan Estrich 
about the vigilantism. It is that. I have to say, however, that at 
certain moments of history, when law and order break down, 
there may be a need for self-defense. I do not excuse Lorena Bobbitt 
for what she did. I think it is criminal and she must go to prison! 



However, we're at a time in the history of women when the old 
controls, the old protections — the fathers and the brothers and 
so on — are no longer there to protect you against abuse. And 
I think we have a return here to that great period at the close 
of the Sixties when you had women like Valerie Solanas — So- 
ciety for Cutting Up Men — who shot Andy Warhol. I don't 
want to praise that act, but I'm all for personal responsibility 
and self-reliance again. So on the one hand, I think that Lorena 
Bobbitt is a neurotic, that she has to go to prison, but — what 
I've always said, you see — she's from a Latin country, and she 
has a sense of honor. And when her honor is offended, she acts 
on her own. I think there's going to be more of this. . . . 

I just don't agree that her life was in danger! What I do 
think was going on was a very complex power dynamic. Now 
the problem of feminist rhetoric of the last twenty years is that 
it's been totally unable to deal with the fact that women are as 
aggressive in sexual relationships and as vengeful as menl So 
what I think we have here is a wonderful demonstration of the 
darkness, irrationality, and turbulence of sex relations and the 
inadequacy of the normal victimization rhetoric of feminism. . . . 
I don't want a situation where women go after the fact for help 
to agencies and so on. I want to allow women to diagnose their 
own addiction to a certain kind of s&m relationship — that I be- 
lieve is going on here. . . . [re: the recent trial in Los Angeles of 
Erik and Lyle Menendez for the murder of their parents] What 
I love about that case, the Menendez case, is that it exposes once 
again the aggressions, the homicidal urges that Freud — who 
was thrown out of feminism twenty years ago — said were in- 
herent in all of us. I totally agree: the Menendez case is a fraud. 

We can't keep relying simply on the system*. I applaud the 
kinds of agencies that are there to give help to desperate women, 
but in my opinion it's only a minority of battered women that 
in fact are financially dependent on their husbands, and — (fu- 
riously) I'm sorry! I reject your figures! And I reject all those 
figures of the feminist establishment! It's a bunch of malarkyl 
I'm sick and tired — (shouting) I'm sorry\ Until you people begin 
to understand the complex psychology of men and women in relation 
to each other, more such women are going to be killed or are 



going to cut the penises off their husbands! A woman who stays 
after she has been battered — as in this case — is psychologically 
addicted to that relationship. She was getting something out of 
it too! Until we look to great art — to Bizet's Carmen and things 
like that — we're never going to understand that! There was a 
love relationship going on here — a love-hate relationship of am- 
bivalence. She was not a pure victim! 


From The Guardian, London, January 21, 1994. 

Wednesday. At breakfast en route to London, the steward offers 
me "bubble and squeak" [a British dish consisting of fried leftovers]. 
I am dumbfounded and think he is making a sexual proposition. 
Vaudeville visions of Gypsy Rose Lee dance before my eyes. On 
landing at Heathrow, I am greeted by Sarah Such, the lively head 
of publicity at Penguin, who has arranged this tour for the paperback 
of Sex, Art, and American Culture. As we drive into the pitch-dark city, 
I begin the first of my tutorials in racy British slang. Of the many 
pungent words Sarah will add to my vocabulary during my visit, 
my favorite is "prat," which I soon publicly apply to the Prince of 

Caught in traffic near the Basil Street Hotel, we see a strange 
stir in front of Harrods, as a dogpack of cameras circles an invisible 
prey. Richard Gere is opening the annual sale. "Penguin always 
puts me where the action is," I remark. Eighteen months ago, during 
my visit for Sexual Personae, my hotel window looked into topsy-turvy 
Kensington Palace the week before Andrew Morton's Diana: Her 
True Story broke upon the world. 

After a few hours' rest, punctuated by fire alarm bells, I begin 
my week of interviews, sustained by oceans of Pepsi and Evian and 
rafts of scones and exquisite tea sandwiches, which I devour with 
obscene relish. 

Thursday. I have an unpleasant encounter with the hotel's Euro- 
pean hair dryer, which looks like a vacuum cleaner and blasts me 



against the wall with hurricanelike force. The interviews continue, 
back to back. By day's end, I have ejected a belligerent reporter for 
incoherence and inaccuracy. When informed that this woman is 
considered an "expert" on feminism, I reply, "I have gazed into her 
mind, and it is mush." 

Highlight of the day is my costume session for the "Dressed to 
Kill" feature in the Daily Mail. When asked, via transatlantic fax, 
about my favorite contemporary designers, I urged that the stylist 
find vaguely transvestite Sixties wear, either Diana Rigg Avengers 
outfits or Portobello Road historical regalia of dandy or cavalier. 
Confronted with a crowded rack, I fall ecstatically on an opulent 
purple-velvet Moschino jacket with pearl buttons. Two people are 
needed to zip me into the thigh-high black suede boots. I am in 
gender-bending heaven. 

British news events swirl round us. Every day, some delicious 
sex scandal shakes the government. I steal an Evening Standard poster 
off the street (LOVE CHILD MINISTER FORCED TO QUIT) to hang in 
my Philadelphia office next to my lifesize Babylonian icon of Joanne 
Whalley-Kilmer as Christine Keeler. 

Friday. The Guardian declares me "a flash in the pan." I eject a 
photographer for constructing a hellish oven in which I am expected 
to put my head. The Late Show films my predictions for 1994: "Ma- 
donna and Diana will be revealed to be one person, a hybrid Hindu 
goddess named Madiana. They will withdraw to a Tibetan mon- 
astery, run by Richard Gere, to which women and hermaphrodites 
can come for flagellation by Madonna and then nursing and healing 
by Diana." 

We fly to Belfast, where I deliver a lecture at Queen's University. 
Here, as elsewhere, I complain about my acute television deprivation 
in Europe and the UK — the few channels, the lack of late-night 
programming. At a bar afterward, I savour Guinness and marvel 
at the extraordinary beauty of Irish youth. 

Weekend. We are driven to Dublin by a security-cleared driver of 
James Bond expertise. We pass a ruined Doric temple, a bombed- 
out courthouse where five policemen were killed. I am fascinated by 



the ancient stone farmhouses and omnipresent sheep of the Irish 

Arriving at a television studio for the Kenny Live show at 10 P.M., 
we see three handlers struggling with a baby tiger in the street. 
Sarah, having forgotten her leash, also fails to get me through the 
door, as I carry on about Blake and Bringing Up Baby. I lose a button. 
In wardrobe, Sarah heroically sews it on, as I wander about ex- 
claiming at boxes labeled "Ladies Bras for Men" and "Ladies Shoes 
for Men," the latter containing gigantic, battered pink pumps. On 
the show, a caller says I am a combination of "Groucho Marx and 
Hitler." The host and I kiss. 

Back in London, I film risque presentations for two Channel 4 
programs, on the penis and lesbians, following last year's shows on 
Diana and Lolita. The artist, Alison Maddex, rightly dubbed my 
"inamorata" by the press, arrives from Germany. We feast on par- 
tridge, steak and kidney pie, and flagons of ale at Rules, where we 
sense positive spirit presences. 

Monday. More interviews, leading up to my lecture at the National 
Theatre. Alison and I are entranced by a gorgeous Thirties portrait 
of Olivier as Hamlet in the green room. Andrew Morton comes 
backstage to say hello. We find him wildly handsome but go off on 
our own for an Indian cuisine extravaganza. 

Tuesday. Elle magazine arrives with costumes for a photo shoot. I 
try on gold mail trousers but reject a black-rubber cat suit and red 
vinyl dominatrix thigh boots. I select a studded black leather jacket 
and motorcycle boots and pose with a medieval broadsword. I feel 
like Mel Gibson in Mad Max. The South Bank Show interviews me 
about the changing image of fat women in cultural history. I am 
aggravated as reporters claim my "chic" jet black suit was "navy." 

Later that week. Alison and I visit Hampton Court, Vivienne West- 
wood's shop, and a chocolate-wall art exhibit. We see Oleanna 
(tedious but all-too-true) and Medea (electrifying), after which I send 
a thank-you note backstage to Diana Rigg, one of my heroines. 



The Sunday Times compares mc to Dame Edna Everage, which 
is, as Sarah would say, spot on. I thank the ghost of Coco Chanel 
that the cover photo definitively documents my maligned black 
suit. Alison and I fly back to America. The moment I get home, I 
rush through the house, turning on all three of my television sets 
at once. 


"A gentleman is . . . "from Esquire, Spring-Summer 1993. 

The idea of the modern "gentleman" is a product of British 
culture. It originates in the Italian Renaissance, in Baldassare Cas- 
tiglione's The Courtier, a. handbook of elegant aristocratic manners. 
The gentleman is half feminine. Though he may be a warrior or 
athlete, he has smoothed and softened his masculine aggression for 
indoor politicking. Because of his refinement and attentiveness, the 
gentleman is always highly attractive to women and is often a skilled 

Film history is full of great gentlemen, from Fred Astaire and 
Cary Grant to George Hamilton, whose persona tends toward the 
gigolo. Hugh Hefner has never received the credit he deserves for 
creating a sophisticated model of the suave American gentleman in 
the Marlboro Man years following shoot-'em-up World War II. 
Contemporary feminism has tried to ditch male gallantry and chiv- 
alry as reactionary and sexist. Eroticism has suffered as a result. 
Perhaps it's time to bring the gentleman back. He may be the only 
hero who can slay that mythical beast, the date-rape octopus, cur- 
rently strangling American culture. 




From The Washington Post Book World, Christmas feature, 1992. 
Writers were asked what books they would read over the holidays, what books 
they hoped to write, and what books influenced them in childhood. 

No current books will be read by me for some time, since I am 
still making my way, with heavy sighs and a magnifying glass, 
through Madonna's Sex. As for planned books of my own, it would 
be too cruel to spoil the holiday season with dark visions of future 
Paglia tomes, portable only by wheelbarrow. 

However, I eagerly answer the query about the ultimate book 
of my childhood. It was the boxed set of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, 
a special edition with tinted Tenniel illustrations, published by Ran- 
dom House in 1946. The contrasting wear of the two tattered vol- 
umes clearly shows that it was Through the Looking- Glass, rather than 
Alice in Wonderland, that most obsessed me as a child. 

The Alice books were my bible, and I studied them religiously. 
They have a dreamy, hallucinatory quality. Order and chaos oscil- 
late. Time and space melt. Vivid personalities, cantankerous and 
egotistical, appear as humans, animals, plants, and assorted objects, 
including a leg of mutton in a paper hat. Everything in the universe 
is capable of cryptic, bossy speech. 

The curt, explosive sound of Carroll's sentences seemed to echo 
the choppy, vigorous Italian dialects I heard all around me as a 
child but was unable to understand. I probably identified the rum- 
pled, sweet-tempered White Queen and the forceful, dogmatic Red 
Queen with, respectively, my paternal and maternal grandmothers, 
the stately matriarchs to whom I dedicated Sexual Personae. 

Alice was a model heroine for a small child. Isolated, plucky, and 
inquisitive, she wanders through gleaming drawing rooms, tangled 
gardens, and rough forests with a kind of baffled stoicism. At five, 
I was Alice for Halloween, in a pinafore, apron, and yellow-yarn wig 
made by my mother. My other admirations were male: Prince Val- 
iant, Robin Hood, and Bizet's Escamillo. The observant and quietly 
determined Alice would remain my ruling female persona until my 
adolescent passion for Katharine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart. In 
college, I rediscovered Carroll's arch, haughty rhetoric in Oscar Wilde 
and my potent, ultraverbal new allies, gay men and drag queens. 



"I, the Jury," from The Washington Post Book World, December 5, 
1993. Writers were asked to make nominations for the Nobel Prize for Liter- 

The Nobel Peace Prize has not been awarded in years where 
it wasn't deserved. A similar standard should govern the litera- 
ture prize, in which case there would have been no winners for 
the past twenty years. The declining importance of the written 
word in our age of mass media is all too eloquently expressed in 
the diminishing distinction of winners of the literature prize after 
the high period of Jean-Paul Sartre (1964), Samuel Beckett (1969), 
and Pablo Neruda (1971). The literature prize, a relic of a gen- 
teel pre-modernist era, should be abolished or redefined as a cul- 
ture prize. Artists of far greater achievement and world stature 
than recent Nobel prizewinners are Ingmar Bergman, Federico 
Fellini, and Bob Dylan. If we must stick to literature, I say give 
the prize to our brilliant Beat shaman, Allen Ginsberg. I'd love 
to see Ginsberg disrupt the pompous Nobel ceremony with one of 
his trademark pieces of performance art — cross-legged, incense- 
burning, cymbal-clanging, and chanting some mystical ode of juicy 
gay porn. 

* * * 

Paglia has publicly condemned "advance blurbs 3 ' as a corrupt practice of the 
publishing industry, and she refuses to write them. However, she occasionally 
provides comments after a book is published, and these have appeared (along 
with phrases from her book reviews) on paperback editions. 

For the Doubleday/Anchor reissue in 1992 of Leslie Fiedler's 
Love and Death in the American Novel (1960): 

Leslie Fiedler, Norman O. Brown, and Allen Ginsberg were 
the three central literary figures of the American Sixties. In college, I 
read Fiedler intensely and deeply. Love and Death in the American Novel 
is immediately behind my book Sexual Personae. In it, Fiedler made 
the first important synthesis of practical criticism with psycho- 
analysis and progressive politics. He created an American intellec- 
tual style that was truncated by the invasion of faddish French 
theory in the Seventies and Eighties. Let's turn back to Fiedler and 
begin again. 



For the New American Library paperback edition of Gordon F. 
Sander, Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Alan 

Rod Serling was one of the central creators of twentieth-century 
American imagination. He was a sci-fi visionary, surrealist poet, and 
political moralist. The impact of The Twilight Zone on my Sixties 
generation was like that of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Samuel 
Beckett's Waiting for Godot on the two generations before us. Serling 
was a primary inspiration to me as a writer. I revere him as the 
modern heir of Edgar Allan Poe. 

* * * 

From The Essential Frankenstein, ed. Leonard Wolf Penguin > 1993. 

I have always found Frankenstein, in its book and movie versions, 
profoundly and unpleasantly disturbing because of my identification 
with the split personae of the story. In Dr. Frankenstein I felt my 
detached scientific consciousness, that cool observing eye that I cast 
on human behavior from my preschool years. In the monster I sensed 
my alienated sexuality, which began with the gender dysfunction of 
my childhood and continued through the ambiguities of sexual ori- 
entation that still trouble me today. The monster has my uncouth 
brute power and psychological isolation, and in its challenge to and 
flight from authority I saw my own Romantic affronts to the con- 
formist humanitarian values of the ''community." But Frankenstein's 
mode is horror, while mine is comedy. I found my way out of Mary 
Shelley's existential dilemma by rejecting Aristotle's "fear and pity" 
for Aristophanes' bawdy, vital energy. 

* * * 

From The New York Observer, July 5-12, 1993. Dan Cogan asks celeb- 
rities about memories of summer camp. 

I went to Spruce Ridge Camp in the Adirondacks and Lourdes 
Summer Camp, a Catholic camp. For me, these all-women envi- 
ronments were prelesbian heaven. It was just so romantic. I had 
mad crushes on all the counselors. It was fabulous, a paradise 

At one camp I had a male name briefly. I had just taken the 
confirmation name Anastasia, after the movie. You're supposed to 



name yourself after a saint, so I named myself after Ingrid Bergman. 
I began calling myself Stacy, already an androgynous name. Some- 
one got it wrong and called me Stanley, and I liked that, so I was 
called Stanley that summer. It was great. 

Outside of my normal school environment, where you would 
have to wear a skirt or a dress or a gym uniform, I really could be 
my androgynous, butch self for days on end. It's probably why I 
felt happy while I was there. The way I've always gotten attention 
from women is by being funny. Camp was the only place you could 
get sustained attention from pretty girls. People like to criticize me, 
saying, "Oh, she's such a showboat," but that's one of the things I 
developed to get attention from women. I can't get them into bed, 
but I could still get their attention. And I'm sure camp was pivotal. 

But it was still a very innocent age. Today, I think I would have 
been much more physically aggressive than I was. There were a 
million opportunities to do things, for heaven's sake. There was some 
experimentation, sitting in bed and pretending we were boys with 
each other. It was very hot. Things were never that hot again. I 
don't think counselors would have permitted it if they knew what 
was going on. 

But this is also one of my primary alien experiences. The idea 
of everyone sitting around the campfire and singing "Que Sera Sera," 
Doris Day's greatest hit. It is one of the experiences that formed 
my temper as the kind of totally obnoxious person that I am now, 
my total intolerance for sappy sentimentality and handholding. I 
hate campfire singing. To me, it typifies the Fifties. The false 
gemutlichkeit of these camps is part of what formed my rebellion as 
a Sixties revolutionary. It's why I love Keith Richards. 

And of course I created some incidents. The biggest happened 
when it was my task to deal with the latrine at Spruce Ridge. The 
instructions on the five-pound bag of lime that was handed to me 
said to put half a cup into the latrine. I thought it said half a package. 
So I dumped in half the bag. Well, I know enough about chemistry 
now to know what happened. Methane gas is produced by decay. 
The lime exploded as soon as it hit the gas in the latrine, and I was 
flung out backwards and clouds and clouds of white-brownish smoke 
were pouring out of the latrine upwards past the unsullied pine trees 
into the heavens. And I was so stunned, I thought, God, what's 



happening, because in those days you didn't know anything. And 
I jumped onto a fallen tree to warn people, and it was so moss- 
covered that my legs flew out from under me, and I fell about eight 
feet down, BOOM!, and I lay there stunned, watching the clouds 
go and go and go. It was just endless. I knew I would be in trouble. 

That was a very archetypal experience. It symbolized everything 
I would do with my life and work. Excess and extravagance and 
explosiveness. I would be someone who would look into the latrine 
of culture, into pornography and crime and psychopathology and 
so on, and I would drop the bomb into it. I would terrorize everyone, 
create complete disorder, and then I'd be lying on my back watching 
the explosion that I made rise helplessly into the sky. 

* * * 

"Critical Mass Media,"^om the PEN Newsletter, October 1993. Mem- 
bers of PEN were asked what motivated them as writers in today's changing 

My primary inspiration remains the rebellion of my Sixties gen- 
eration against bourgeois convention. So many of my contemporaries 
lost themselves in drugs or dissipated their energies outside the 
system, which they refused to enter and therefore never transformed. 
Television and popular music shaped the imagination of my gen- 
eration, but the academic and literary establishment is still domi- 
nated by dull, moralistic, slow-thinking people who came to con- 
sciousness fifty years ago, before the triumph of mass media. 

As a writer, I am committed to the enterprise of setting down 
my generation's inner experience for the historical record. Not since 
Gutenberg, as Marshall McLuhan observed, had there been such a 
dizzying communications explosion. Since the Sixties there has been 
a radical shift from words to images in world culture. The modern 
writer must be able to negotiate between these realms. Like Alexan- 
drian scribes, we carry the sacred burden of the literary past in a 
lively, decadent, commercial age increasingly indifFerent to books. But 
I remain convinced that words have both power and permanence. 

* * * 

From "Symposium — In the Media, A Woman's Place " Columbia Media 
Studies Journal, Winter/ Spring, 1993. 


43 1 

In the past two years, feminism exploded into the media and 
became hot news again. But the serious, legitimate issues of date 
rape and sexual harassment were done to death and turned into 
mass hysteria. Feminist books became best-sellers, but they also 
exposed deep divisions within feminism itself that the media had 
lazily ignored. For twenty years, dissident feminist voices like mine 
could not get heard. From the moment Gloria Steinem founded Ms. 
magazine and became a power on the New York social and political 
scene, the media servilely surrendered to the white, middle-class 
lady's view of feminism, which many of us from the Sixties found 
genteel, sanitized, and repressive. 

Since my recent notoriety, I have had many opportunities to 
observe the inner workings of the major media. With few exceptions, 
the sloth, superficiality and ignorance about long-standing feminist 
issues are not to be believed. Media people just repeat the simplistic 
Steinem party line like robots. Catharine MacKinnon, a puritanical 
anti-porn extremist endorsed by Steinem, is trotted out on program 
after program as if she were Grandma Moses. I am constantly bat- 
tling to get the opposing position heard and have pulled out of several 
network shows when producers began to buckle under hardline pres- 
sure. And there are many programs and major print organs that are 
completely closed to me. 

My message to the media is: Wake up! The silencing of authentic 
debate among feminists just helps the rise of the far right. When the 
media get locked in their Northeastern ghetto and become slaves of 
the feminist establishment and fanatical special interests, the Amer- 
ican audience ends up looking to conservative voices for common 
sense. As a libertarian Democrat, I protest against this self-defeating 
tyranny of political correctness. 

* * * 

From In A Word: A Harper's Magazine Dictionary of Words That 
Don't Exist But Ought To, Jack Hitt, ed., 1992. Contributors were asked 
to invent, define, and illustrate a new word. 

whuffle [whine + wheeze + snuff + sniffle]: The annoying, scratchy 
sound made by weepy feminists as they lament the sufferings of 
women and, houndlike, sniff out evidence of male oppression in 
literature, art, and the media. Some compare it to the rustle of 



Victorian crinoline skirts. Others speak of a badmintonlike spank 
and whoosh. Still others think of a jumbled feathery flapping, as in 
the attic torture of Tippi Hedrcn in The Birds. Of a feminist theorist: 
"She whuffled her way to the top." Of a feminist conference: "The 
room overflowed with whufflers." Of a feminist lecture: "The whuf- 
fling was unbearable." 

* * * 

Letter to the editor, London Review of Books, March 11, 1993. Reprinted 
in Harper's, June 1993. 

Elaine Showalter's review of my new book, Sex, Art, and American 
Culture, was generally fair and accurate in its detailed overview of 
my career. However, her account of my appearance in December at 
her own institution, Princeton University, is a dismaying collage of 
distortions, malice, and wishful fantasy. 

I have never in fact been invited to lecture at Princeton, partly 
because of the solipsistic insularity of the feminist establishment that 
Elaine Showalter represents. I was not giving a lecture at Princeton 
on the day in question. I had been invited by Alisa Belletini, producer 
of MTV's "House of Style," to sit on a 40-minute panel with her, 
supermodel Cindy Crawford, and Linda Wells, founder and editor- 
in-chief of Allure magazine, to help defend them against the insane 
feminist charge (obsessively pushed by one-note Naomi Wolf) that 
the fashion industry causes anorexia. 

As one of four panelists focused on a single issue, I could hardly 
jump to my feet, take over the occasion, and regale the audience 
with my usual Joan-Rivers-meets-Jane-Harrison comic monologue. 
Had I done so, I expect Professor Showalter would have used that 
as evidence of my dreadful selfishness and daffy narcissism. Here, 
as in her books, she shows her inability to read simple cultural 
symbolism. At Princeton I was dressed in casual butch blue jeans, 
rather than my usual ultra-femme, high-maquillage, Auntie Mame 
performance drag, to signal that I was not the central focus: Cindy 
Crawford was. It was for the gorgeous, willowy Crawford, not me, 
that the huge crowd paid a $5 entrance fee. 

I suggest that Professor Showalter, who was clearly stung by 
the respectful coverage my attendance at the conference received 



before and after the event in The New York Times and New Jersey 
newspapers on and off campus, should concentrate her energies on 
the deplorable condition of Princeton education. We visitors were 
shocked at the mediocrity and inarticulateness of most of the stu- 
dent questioners, who seemed to have no command even of syn- 
tax, much less thought, aside from their parroting of passe feminist 
cliches. Ivy League education in the humanities is obviously in 
the pits. 

In conclusion, Professor Showalter tries to make a grand point 
of my refusal to 6 'debate" other academic feminists — as if I had ever 
been invited by anyone anywhere in the country to such a debate 
(except for a Madonna panel at this student-organized confer- 
ence). The unpleasant truth is that the American feminist establish- 
ment categorically refused to read my book or to take me or my 
ideas seriously until now, three full years after the release of Sexual 

I'm afraid it's too late, ladies. You have abundantly shown your 
true character, in all its vicious, Kremlin-walled Stalinism. The 
reform movement that I helped launch is at your gates. Your desire 
for debate is touching, even pathetic. But the time for negotiations 
is long past. History has moved on and left you behind. 

* * * 

"On Picasso," from Art News, April 1993. 

On the level of creativity, Picasso is equal to Michelangelo. 
Therefore it's appalling that feminists have removed him from study 
for women artists, who are brainwashed that he was mean to his 
girlfriends. Yes, mainstream and radical feminists are anti-Picasso. 
You can't treat him seriously, they claim. This is absolute nonsense. 
They're blind to a vital fact: you must separate the person in real 
life from the artist. 

Now, we may be interested in biographical compulsions, but 
art — I stress — exists separately from real life. Young women in Ivy 
League schools are told art history was written by men, so there's 
a heterosexist conspiracy to keep them from knowing about women 
artists in history. We've revised the reputation of some minor women 
artists I find interesting. Romaine Brooks. I've always liked her. 
Frida Kahlo. Fine. But not one major woman artist has ever been 



rediscovered. Then Germaine Greer says there are no great women 
because they have mutilated egos. I say great art only comes from 
mutilated egos. 

Western culture is about the solitary, obsessive individualist. 
Usually artists of non-Western traditions subordinate themselves to 
collective style and "speak" for the tribe. In Michelangelo and Pi- 
casso we see Western art and personality. Everything that is Western 
about cultural history is encapsulated in Picasso. 

* * * 

From interview by Edie Magnus with Camille Paglia on premiere of Connie 
Chung's Eye to Eye, CBS, June 17, 1993, in regard to sexual harassment 
lawsuits against schools by parents on behalf of their children. 

paglia: Well, I think it's a very dangerous trend — very dangerous 

MAGNUS (voiceover): Writer and controversial social critic Camille 
Paglia sees a danger in the surge of laws which might appear 
fashionable now but which she feels undermine the kids they're 
designed to protect. 

PAGLIA: The idea of the state and the law stepping in to make sure 
everyone's feelings are not bruised — this is madness. 

If the girl's feeling's aren't hurt now, they will be hurt some 
time in the future — again and again and again. If you haven't 
built up the armor to deal with some reverse in junior high 
school — what are we doing to people? We are crippling them. 
We are crippling our young women! 

(Program continues.) 

PAGLIA: We cannot have constant legal remedies for every single 
thing that goes wrong with kids in junior high school. 

MAGNUS: What would you say to the eighth grade girl who comes 
home crying every day, whose grades have fallen, who says she 
cannot concentrate enough to be able to get a good education 
because the boys in school are calling her dirty names? 



PAGLIA: I have to ask: is it happening in the classroom? If it's hap- 
pening in the classroom, that cannot be tolerated. If it's hap- 
pening outside the classroom, tough cookies, okay? Get a grip. 
This is called life. L-I-F-E is life. We cannot constantly make 
a kind of cushion around our white middle-class girls (makes ear- 
muff gesture and mimics sulky adolescent), protecting them from any 
obscene thing that comes to their ears! 



6. Movie poster for. Female Misbehavior (1992). A. Piccolo Graph- 
ics/NYC. From Part 1, "Dr. Paglia" (above); from Part 3, 
"Bondage'' (below). First Run Features. 

'You have an air of Camille Paglia about you. " 

Fig. 7. Camille Paglia: her operatic tough-girl voice rings out into the 
cloistered academic air. Drawing by Victor Juhasz originally ap- 
peared in The New Yorker. Copyright © 1992 by Victor Juhasz. 
All rights reserved. 

Fig. 8. Drawing by Victoria Roberts originally appeared in 
The New Yorker. Copyright © 1993 by Victoria Roberts. 

Pa^&a. to wan, pVaax . ? 


"/ read that Camille Pallia was writing the preface 
to Madonna's new book . . . or was it the other way around?'' 

Fig. 9. Drawing by Gail E. Machlis originally appeared in the 
San Francisco Chronicle. Copyright ® 1992 Chronicle Features Syndica 

Fig. 10. Drawing by Carole Cable originally appeared in the 
Chronicle of Higher Education. Copyright c 1994. Reprinted by 
permission of University of Texas Press. 

Fig. 1 1 . Drawing by Doug Sneyd reproduced by special 
permission of Playboy magazine. Copyright ® 1993 by Playboy. 

Fig. 12. Drawing by Demetrios Psillos originally appeared in 
Self magazine. Copyright ® 1993 by Demetrios Psillos. 

Fig. 13. Copyright © 1993 by Bill Holbrook. Reprinted with 
special permission of King Features Syndicate. 

Fig. 14. Originally appeared in The New York Native. 
Copyright © 1992 by C. Bard Cole. 

Fig. 15. Paglia as St. Sebastian. Originally appeared in 
The New Republic. Copyright © 1992 by Vint Lawrence. 

Fig. 16. Paglia with Madonna and fig leaf. Originally appeared 
The New Republic. Copyright © 1993 by Vint Lawrence. 

Fig. 17. Paglia as Diva. Drawing by Charles Hcfling originally 
appeared in The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review. 
Copyright e 1994 by Charles C. Hefling. 



Ahto pecApence prom hiefEftrm to 

IAi pApeftBAOC. \*ieLCOAA£, Mf. PAGUAIm 



Fig. 18. Copyright © 1992 by Tom Roberts and Jim Siergey. 
Nationally syndicated in alternative newspapers. 


AiRtGnr,As yoo can see bv t*m»s cmaet 

SALCS of TUES£X Book AK£ Tto 

~" 7 KOTO TUts BoSWeSS To SfT 

g-L o*i 4 P/U£ Of p£ADMON£.Y, 


&IG I PEA to go w/TM 
rue wmolc 4£$8/AAf 


4grr brainstorm f> 

Fig. 19. Copyright © 1993 by Tom Roberts and Jim Siergey. 
Nationally syndicated in alternative newspapers. 


<?u$z. iirru otsu. "Apunk. 9 
seems uue. cmui ve^fa*y 

THE C*fS <?f 

Fig. 20. Inspired by Paglia's A/(wfcrH essay on revivals. 

Her books are shown in frame 7. Drawing by Mick Kidd and 
Chris Garratt. Copyright © 1994 by BIFF Products. 
Originally appeared in The Guardian, London. 

(Deep w tk ctfA\;/vs€ of 
£(zicev Come it) a TfrJ&zst- 



| AMD/ (&M 

A hQvAN" 
V/OODoo i 

ownJ AT T\ve OLD OfWVSUS X N' 

'aequo gAtz %GQiue- 

,s a a 

to exruxif tvv deep 
eccetfe* of tw' io 


MS APotto /mv eve* 

WITH J^*^ 

<?f2(FFY'WAlT R>(2 

TS*. Too SAD. A*0<J*JTff 
Bar, i 6^e*S *aiheu I uMteoa*\ 


Figs. 21, 22, & 23. Three strips inspired by SVjwa/ Personae. 
Copyright c 1992 by Bill Griffith. Reprinted with special 
permission of King Features Syndicate. 

Dykes To Watch Out For 

Fig. 24. Copyright ® 1992 by Bill Griffith. Reprinted with special 
permission of King Features Syndicate. 

Fig. 25. The box contains copies of Paglia's Sex, Art, and American 
Culture. Excerpt from the ongoing strip courtesy of 
Firebrand Books. Copyright ® 1994 by Alison Bechdel. 

SetAe&rrtes SeerAS (ike. 
&\e oh// CLdLequLCLte. response. 

Fig. 26. Poster of Sex, Art, and American Culture in superheroine's 
room in The Maxx comic books. Copyright ® 1993 by Sam Kieth. 

Fig. 27. Copyright ® 1993 by Raymond Lowry. 
Originally appeared in The Guardian, 1993. 

Figs. 28 & 29. Copyright © 1993 by John Callahan. 
Reprinted by permission. Gift of the artist. 

Figs. 30 & 31. Copyright © 1993 by John Callahan. 
Reprinted by permission. Gift of the artist. 

Fig. 32. Gloria Steinem aboard drifting ship; Paglia as Siren. 
Copyright © 1993 by John Callahan. Reprinted by permission. 

Fig. 33. Paglia as Samson — the final caricature as published in 
the San Francisco Examiner. Copyright © 1992 by Zach Trenholm. 
Reprinted by permission. 

Fig. 34. Paglia as Marlon Brando — the original caricature that 
was rejected by the San Francisco Examiner as "unsuitable for a 
family newspaper." Copyright © 1992 by Zach Trenholm. 
Reprinted by permission. 

Figs. 35-39. Preliminary sketches for the San Francisco Examiner 
caricature: Paglia as bull in china shop, Byzantine evangelist, 

Venus de Dietrich, bikini-barbell powerlifter, and La Pasionaria. 

Copyright ® 1992 by Zach Trenholm. Reprinted by permission. 


Fig. 40. Gift from the staff of Penthouse Comix. Presented to 
Paglia by George Caragonne at Bob Guccione's Manhattan 
townhouse. Copyright 1994 by CDI. Drawn by Bill Vallely and 
written by George Caragonne, editor in chief of Penthouse Comix. 


Selected articles regarding Camille Paglia. The bibliography of 
Sex, Art, and American Culture ended with June 1992. The bibliography 
of Vamps & Tramps picks up from that point, with some earlier 
additions. Annotations by Paglia. 

"Afy Name's Camille Paglia," Philadelphia, February 1992. Article 
with photos of the two feminist/astrologer Camille Paglias, unknown 
to each other until one wrote Sexual Personae. When Lesbo A-Go-Go, 
a troupe of lesbian go-go dancers from Washington, D.C., tried to 
contact pro-porn professor Paglia to defend them on Donahue, they 
reached the other one by mistake. The latter then appeared on the 
show (November 1991) and attacked the dancers from the anti-porn 
feminist position. Author Paglia tells Philadelphia, "It's like that ep- 
isode on The Twilight Zone where Vera Miles meets her double in 
the deserted bus depot." 

"Female Problems at Brown," Heterodoxy, May 1992. The satirical 
anti-p.c. newspaper quotes a Stalinist broadside by feminist English 
department faculty at Brown University denouncing Paglia's ap- 



pcarancc there in March 1992, which they boycotted and which 
drew one of the largest crowds in 30 years. 

"Camille Paglia: 'As feministas vulgarizam a grandeza da mulher': 
Uma das provocates da polemica professora da Philadelphia's 
University of the Arts ," Jo rna I da Tarde (Brazil), May 12, 1992. Big 
spread on Paglia. 

Joan Juliet Buck, 'The Annette Effect," Vanity Fair, June 1992. 
Cover story on Annette Bening: "Now she's reading Camille Paglia, 
and finds the concept of 'humanist rather than feminist' to be at- 
tractive. 'Nature comes first.' " 

Kathy Healy, "The New Strippers," Allure, June 1992. Paglia de- 
fends stripping. 

"Speech Codes and Censors," Wall Street Journal, June 6, 1992. Ed- 
itorial about assaults on free speech on American campuses. Con- 
demns the campaign against Sexual Personae by feminist faculty at 
Connecticut College. 

"College reading list causes controversy," Chronicle of Higher Edu- 
cation, June 17, 1992. On the furor over Sexual Personae at Connecticut 

"The Real Camille," QW (New York), June 21, 1992. A gay mag- 
azine prints vicious false allegations about Paglia, whose long, angry 
letter in response appeared July 19. 

Emily Harrison Weir, "The Academic Dominatrix: Camille Paglia's 
Incendiary Cultural Criticism," NewsSmith (Smith College), Summer 
1992. Account of Paglia's lecture in April at Smith. 

Katherine Farrish, "Tempest over a summer selection: Anti-feminist 
book has college in uproar," The Hartford Courant, July 12, 1992. 
Account of the controversy at Connecticut College over Sexual Per- 
sonae, which some professors called "trash." Janet Gezari, the col- 
lege's director of women's studies, says about Sexual Personae, "Let's 



not be fooled by packaging into mistaking any hate-speech or sexist 
or racist doctrine for ideas." 

Spy parody issue of The New York Times, July 15, 1992. Distributed 
as a prank at the Democratic National Convention in New York 
City. Headline: "Perot Set to Pick TV's Oprah Winfrey as Running 
Mate." On the op-ed page are parodies of articles by Paglia, Anna 
Quindlen, A.M. Rosenthal, and Michael Dukakis. The Paglia piece, 
written by Jamie Malanowski, is the lead, "A Hot-Button Candidate: 
Seeing Clinton as Slick Willie and Liking It." A montage shows 
Clinton in a jeweled white Elvis suit. 

"Women We Love," Esquire, August 1992. Listed as "Bad Girls for 
Good Times": Drew Barrymore and Camille Paglia. 

Robert Rockwood, "The Emperor Is Naked: Baring the Truth Be- 
hind NAMBLA's Bad Press," NAME LA Bulletin, July /August 1992. 
Magazine of the controversial North American Man/Boy Love As- 
sociation. Long excerpt from Sexual Personae about what Rockwood 
correctly summarizes as "an underlying religious impulse" in the 
ancient cult of the beautiful boy. 

"Camille Paglia," Current Biography, August 1992. Cover story. Vis- 
ible in photo of Paglia in her office: poster of Madonna in a black 
bra; photo of porn king Jeff Stryker, clipped from a gay newspaper. 

Camille Paglia, "The Diana Cult: What's really behind our obsession 
with the Princess of Wales?" New Republic, August 3, 1992. Cover 
story. Reprinted in The Guardian (London), The Globe and Mail (To- 
ronto), and The San Francisco Chronicle. 

Robert F. Moss, "The 1992 Literary Olympics," New York, August 
10, 1992. Fantasy athletic contests for literati: "Freestyle Repartee" 
at the "Dorothy Parker Pavilion" and, "the glamour event," "Lit- 
erary Feuding" at the "Lillian Hellman/Mary McCarthy Arena." 
Paglia versus Sontag proposed for the latter. Same issue: Marilyn 
Webb, "The Right Course." Announces that fall's five-night lecture 
series on feminism at the 92nd Street Y, with Gloria Steinem the 



first week and Paglia the second. [It was at this event that Steinem, 
presiding onstage with Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf, was caught 
by the 60 Minutes cameras declaring to the audience about Paglia, 
"We don't give a shit what she thinks!"] Paglia says, "My brand 
of feminism is totally unlike establishment feminism" [a term, along 
with "feminist establishment," that she coined]. 

Joseph P. Kahn and Mark Muro, "Woody: The fall of a Hollywood 
icon," The Boston Globe, August 20, 1992. Paglia calls the Woody 
Allen scandal "a wonderful cold douche for feminist naivete" [ap- 
parently the first appearance of that slang term in the Globe]. 

Richard Weizel, "College Reading List Provokes Debate," The New 
York Times, Connecticut supplement, August 23, 1992. Account of 
the controversy over Sexual Personae at Connecticut College. Paglia 
is described as a "renegade feminist" [a term first applied to her by 
Diane Sawyer on ABC's Primetime Live]. Janet Gezari, director of 
the college's women's studies program, calls Paglia "a woman hater" 
and says, "She is a misogynist in the best tradition of Western 
misogyny. And we should not be recommending that students read 
books that present those kinds of opinions about women." Weizel 
states: "[Gezari] said she strongly opposed the book's inclusion on 
the summer reading list and took part in an organized effort to have 
it removed because the book 'is racist and sexist and just doesn't 
belong on a list of books that this college should be recommending.' 
She said she agreed with some professors who compared it to Hitler's 
Mein Kampf." A male professor says of Sexual Personae, "Besides, it's 
just a bad book from a literary point of view and it shouldn't be 
read by students. What really strikes me about the book is that both 
conservatives and liberals have blasted it. That must tell you some- 
thing." [Gee whiz! A book that thinks for itself.] Lauren H. Klatzkin, 
the student who originally suggested Sexual Personae, "said she was 
appalled by the efforts to have it removed. T was really shocked so 
many people got so upset about it. The view of feminism expressed 
in the book may not be fashionable these days, but it is a true form 
of expression and one as worthy of discussion as any other form.' " 

James Wolcott, "Paglia's Power Trip," Vanity Fair, September 1992. 
Profile of Paglia, with schoolday photos of her as Cleopatra, Amelia 



Earhart, and Clyde Barrow. Headline: "Since the publication two 
years ago of her slash-and-burn manifesto, Sexual Personae, Camille 
Paglia has been bullying her way around the intellectual circuit, 
ambushing the new feminism — and almost single-handedly resur- 
recting the pop-cult debate. Now the woman who compares herself 
favorably to Simone de Beauvoir and Madonna is busy promoting 
herself as the female role model of the next century." Photo by James 
Hamilton (who shot Paglia as bantam-weight super-dyke for The 
Village Voice in 1991) of a vampy, cleavage-baring Paglia and her 
handsome African- American "Centurions," bodyguards Rennard 
Snowden and Brian Roach. 

Lynn Hirschberg, "Strange Love," Vanity Fair, September 1992. 
Profile of rock diva Courtney Love, who says about her "Kinder- 
whore" style of dress and makeup, "It's a good look. It's sexy, but 
you can sit down and say, 'I read Camille Paglia.' " 

Reed Woodhouse, "Hitting 'em with her best shot: Camille Paglia 
and Bay Windows' Reed Woodhouse have a nice long chat," Bay 
Windows (Boston), September 3, 1992. Part two appeared September 
10. Paglia considers Woodhouse one of the most cultivated and 
knowledgeable interviewers she has encountered. Also in second 
issue: the lesbian office manager's editorial, "Camille Paglia: A Dan- 
gerous Woman," which calls Paglia a "misogynist," groups her with 
ultra-conservatives like Pat Buchanan, and scolds gay men for liking 

Chris Culwell, "Camille Unbound: Bitchy academic pushes every- 
one's buttons," The Sentinel (San Francisco), September 10, 1992. 
Paglia quoted under a photo of Michel Foucault: "Foucault is one 
of the most misogynist writers of the past 100 years; there isn't a 
single woman anywhere in his books." Asked what she was "trying 
to accomplish" with Sexual Per sonae, Paglia replies: "Ultimately, I'm 
trying to record how the mind works. The book is not about fixed 
ideas. It's about the epic struggle between the Apollonian — the form- 
making aspect of mankind — and the Dionysian, between reason and 
nature, mind and emotion. The book shows the Apollonian dissolv- 
ing into the Dionysian, back and forth in this kind of rhythmic, 



oscillating motion. I call the book psychedelic because it's inspired 
by the kind of thing we were doing in the Sixties. My book is doing 
what people had to take acid to do; it's exploring parts of the brain 
we don't ordinarily use in everyday life." [The only reviewer who 
caught the rhythmic oscillations and critique of polarities in Sexual 
Personae was Pat Lee, "The Eyes Have It," Yorkshire Post, April 12, 

Roger Kimball, "Dragon Lady of Academe," The Wall Street Journal, 
September 17, 1992. Review of Sex, Art, and American Culture. Says 
about Paglia's academic expose "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raid- 
ers": "Don't look for moderation or understatement here. This is 
criticism as an exercise in saturation bombing." 

Elizabeth Tippens, "Mastering Madonna," Rolling Stone, September 
17, 1992. Courses at various schools around the country that make 
use of Madonna, including Paglia's "Women and Sex Roles" at the 
University of the Arts. 

Tim Appelo and Meredith Berkman, "Fighting Words," Entertain- 
ment Weekly, September 18, 1992. The Paglia versus Sontag battle. 
" 'There's a jealousy factor here,' Paglia snorts. 'I'm saying, "You're 
the heavyweight who used to be the bully on the block and here 
comes the new girl!" ' " Describes incident at a Philadelphia Ma- 
donna concert where "a young male peed on her seat" and Paglia 
punched him in the face. [Paglia said to herself, "This is ridiculous! 
I'm a 40-year-old woman with a purse!"] 

Robert L. Pincus, "Paglia's 'Sex, Art' essays infuriate and/or en- 
thrall," The San Diego Union-Tribune, September 20, 1992. Review by 
an art critic: "Her attacks on the American academy's obsession 
with French theorists like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are 
brave. As she observes, their influence has given rise to a lot of dry, 
badly written, and unnecessarily complex commentary on the arts. 
Paglia offers an alternate method of writing erudite, insightful crit- 
icism on literature, art, and pop culture that is both accessible and 
relevant to a wide range of readers." 



Laura Shapiro, "An Intellectual Amazon: Is Paglia a radical thinker 
or a media marvel?" Newsweek, September 21, 1992. Photo of Paglia 
with bullwhip. Caption (from a classic Ann-Margret movie): "Kitten 
with a whip: Paglia en garde." 

"People in the News," San Jose Mercury News, September 22, 
1992. "Today's Quote": Paglia comments on what the newspaper 
calls "Madonna's hotly anticipated photo-fantasy book, titled Sex, 
a work so racy it will be encased in a Mylar bag — penetrable only 
with the help of a sharp object." Paglia says, "Short of going into 
a convent, I don't know how she can top herself after this." 

Stephanie Zacharek, "Uppity Bitch: Camille 101 is a richer course 
than critics admit," Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement, September 25, 
1992. Caption under photo (from 1991 M.I.T. lecture): "Brickbat 
Tosser: Camille Paglia builds a tough argument with playful prose." 
Begins: "If you sat down with a group of womenVstudies majors 
and told them the story of a woman academic who, despite her fierce 
intelligence and encyclopedic knowledge of world culture, is despised 
in certain academic circles, they'd be the first to chalk her fate up 
to the oppressive patriarchal system. The reaction of many feminists 
to Paglia's 1990 opus, Sexual Personae, and to the media blitz that 
followed it, proves that the desire to squelch ideas that don't square 
with your own isn't a purely white, masculine trait. Curious how, 
even in the Nineties, a woman runs the risk of getting lynched for 
being uppity." 

Nat Hentoff, "Forbidden Books at Connecticut College," Washington 
Post, September 26, 1992. Criticizes the fight over Sexual Personae and 
says it was the students who "saved the book — and the intellectual 
credibility" of the college: "Paglia sees literature and the rest of the 
world as a tournament, and her mission is to unhorse fashionable 
literary and intellectual figures and theories." See also Hentoff, 
"When Students Teach Professors," The Progressive, February 1993. 

"Feminism and Its Discontents: Susan Faludi, Camille Paglia, and 
Naomi Wolf on Men, Women, Sex, Family Values . . . and each 
other," Image magazine, San Francisco Examiner, September 27, 1992. 



Entire magazine devoted to full airing of the issues. See also letters, 
October 25. [Significant that this debate was conceived (by editor 
David Talbot) and published on the West Coast. The East Coast 
media were then too dominated by the feminist establishment.] 

Don Savage and Christine Wenc, "Camille Paglia: Boy, She Sure 
Does Talk Fast!" The Stranger (Seattle), September 28, 1992. Inter- 
view. Part two: October 5. 

Melinda Bargreen, "Camille Paglia: thorn in the feminists' side," 
The Seattle Times, September 29, 1992. Inside headline: "A literary 
pit bull attacks the conventional feminist wisdom." Paglia says: "Let 
the feminists try to dismiss me. My feminism predates Steinem. 
Today's feminists are the lackeys and minions of the tyrant, Gloria 
Steinem. I evolved past the point where they began!" 

Diana Walker, "Camille Paglia strikes a pose in lecture on feminism" 
and "Camille Paglia loosens up," The Daily of the University of Wash- 
ington (Seattle), September 30, 1992. Account of lecture at university. 
Photo outside the hall of 60 Minutes cameraman filming socialist 
protesters, none of whom had read Paglia's work. [In widely re- 
broadcast footage from this lecture, Paglia declares: "My task as a 
feminist intellectual is to attack cant, convention, and cliche wher- 
ever they appear, in order to save feminism from its worst excesses. 
I'm not trying to get rid of feminism. I'm trying to reform it from 

Joan Smith, "The Original Feminist? Camille Paglia's no shrinking 
violet, that's for sure," San Francisco Examiner, September 30, 1992. 
Account of Paglia's lecture at the Herbst Theater. Huge photo by 
Mike Macor of Paglia looking like a wind-blown La Pasionaria, 
inflaming the crowd. 

JoAnn Garflin, "Sex, Art, and American Culture," East Bay Express 
(Los Angeles), October 1992. "It's time to board up the windows, 
bury the silver, and send the children to stay with relatives in the 
country. Camille Paglia is back. Reading Paglia is like knocking 
back three espressos in a row. Your blood races, your eyes bulge, 



you hyperventilate. Camille Paglia is the person Dorothy Parker 
would have been if she'd had a Ph.D." 

Fenton Bailey, "I, Paglia: Camille Paglia's greatest hits/' Paper (New 
York), October 1992. Review. "Whether you agree — or violently 
disagree — with Camille Paglia's porn of plenty (I love it), there is 
no doubt that she has performed an invaluable service — reviving 
the academic establishment from irrelevant extinction. From Oxford 
to Harvard, academia has failed to make any sense thus far of pop- 
ular culture. Either it has stuck its nose in the air, tut-tutting over 
the lowbrow philistines swarming the plain, or it has condescended 
to perform a cultural ascension on pop, making the comprehensible 
incomprehensible by trussing it in a criticalese that is mere babble 
to anyone but the snobs who have constructed the semi-idiotic code 
for their elitist onanism. 'The Dionysian is no picnic!' Paglia pro- 
claims, a 21st-century Boadicea with chain saws on her chariot 
wheels, the better to cut down chaff like Susan Son tag, Naomi Wolf 
and Meryl Streep — and anyone else who gets in her way." 

Stuart Whitwell, "Nietzsche, Meet Madonna," Booklist, October 1, 
1992. One of the best analyses yet of Paglia's thought. Whitwell 
identifies "four overarching themes" in Sexual Personae and says that, 
if readers keep them in mind, "Sex, Art, and American Culture will 
begin to seem less like a fireworks display and more like a concerted 
effort to shift the intellectual focus of twentieth-century thought." 
His third category: "While liberals and conservatives were bickering 
over how to deal with the historical changes brought about by the 
collapse of religious authority, the rise of democracy, and the furious 
pace of technological evolution, pop culture has risen up like a tidal 
wave and changed the world so dramatically that the old quarrels 
of liberals and conservatives now look facile and outdated." 

Pat Califia, "Radical assessment," The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 
4, 1992. Attack on Sex, Art, and American Culture. Those who think 
the pro-sex wing of feminism is free of rabid political correctness 
must see this uninformed, maladroit review, with its humorless, 
grindingly formulaic Seventies-era politics. It calls Paglia "a failed 
academic," "repetitious, hateful, and in the end dreadfully dull." 



"The Cultural Elite: Who They Really Are," Newsweek, October 5, 
1992. Cover story about Vice-President Dan Quayle's charge that 
a liberal "cultural elite" wields too much power in America. News- 
week lists 100 people, including Paglia, in art, politics, academe, and 
the media who constitute the "cultural elite." Paglia is identified as 
"Cultural terrorist, author": "Why is the Ivy League so frightened?" 
The false statement that Paglia "calls date rape 'sex as usual' " was 
retracted by Newsweek on February 15, 1993. 

MTV, interview with Madonna (Milan), October 6, 1992. Questioner 
[British male voice]: "Are you familiar with the work of Camille 
Paglia?" Madonna [correcting pronunciation]: "Paglia, yes." Q. "She 
says female beauty is a potent form of power. Do you agree?" Ma- 
donna: "Absolutely." Q. "In what way are you using your power?" 
Madonna: "You mean I have to tell you? [laughs] How am I using 
my power? By doing what I do. Well, it depends on what you do. 
I mean, you could be a beautiful girl who just sits around the house 
filing your nails all day, or you could be a beautiful girl who's out 
there saying something, taking risks and trying to change people's 
way of thinking, which is what I think I am. But I have to preface 
all of that by saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There 
are plenty of people who don't think I'm beautiful, so in that case 
Camille's ideas are out the window [laughs loudly]." 

Robert Taylor, "Camille Paglia's fiery essays on sex, art, and ed- 
ucation," The Boston Globe, October 7, 1992. Review. "The ideas of 
Camille Paglia go rat-a-tat-tat like the ammo clip of a Chicago piano. 
As for feminism, Paglia suggests it might evolve if feminists started 
reading Dante and Shakespeare instead of each other. The tradition 
of learned eccentric — someone who's smarter than anyone else until 
you realize he or she is also loopy — thrives in Paglia." 

"This Week," San Francisco Weekly, October 7, 1992. Photo of Paglia 
(signing books after lecture at Herbst Theater) rising to bow to and 
kiss the hands of two majestic drag queens in black. In same issue: 
Ann Powers, "Both sides now: Camille Paglia's vitriol doesn't make 
room for an Axl Rose." Feminist attack on Paglia (alleging her 
incapable of appreciating androgynous Axl Rose) that produced a 



flood of letters, printed November 4. Sample: "Apparently Powers 
has not bothered to read Sexual Personae, which examines and cele- 
brates androgynous sex appeal from Lord Byron to Elvis Presley." 
[Paglia's admiration of Guns V Roses had been a matter of public 
record for over a year.] 

Adair Lara, "Dealing with Paglia's Sticks and Stones," San Francisco 
Chronicle, October 8, 1992. Entertaining account of Paglia's lecture 
at the Herbst Theater. "There's been such a depressing amount of 
political correctness around lately, and Paglia reminds me of the 
good old days of journalism, when you said whatever the hell you 
liked and hoped no one showed up in your office the next day, looking 
for a duel." 

Edna Gunderson, "Lady Madonna: Who is that girl?" USA Today, 
October 9, 1992. A weary Madonna, goaded by a reporter, gloomily 
insists no one understands her. "Even rebel feminist Camille Paglia, 
who hails Madonna as the feminist ideal, has miscalculated, she 
says. T've heard her say things, under the guise of being adoring, 
that make it very clear that she doesn't get me at all. I'm flattered 
to a certain extent, but sometimes I think she's full of shit." Though 
this was a minor item in the article, the inside headline blared: 
"Paglia misses Madonna's point." [Paglia furiously phoned the of- 
fice of Madonna's publicist to lodge a protest: "Do you know the 
crap I've taken for two years from the rock press because of my 
endorsement of Madonna?" During an interview that week on a New 
York radio talk show, Paglia was prodded about Madonna's remark 
but refused to criticize her, declaring that whatever Madonna-the- 
person might do or say, nothing would shake Paglia's admiration 
for Madonna-the-artist, the higher being.] 

Jim Windolf, "OfTthe Record," New York Observer, October 12, 1992. 
Account of incident at feminist panel discussion at the 92nd Street 
Y on September 30, when CBS associate producer Claudia Weinstein 
tried to ask moderator Gloria Steinem about Paglia but was re- 
peatedly cut off. "Steve Kroft, the 60 Minutes correspondent who is 
reporting the segment on Ms. Paglia, felt that Ms. Weinstein had 
walked into a trap set by Ms. Steinem. Ms. Steinem, he explained, 



declined to be interviewed concerning Ms. Paglia until after Election 
Day [November 3], but suggested herself that 60 Minutes attend the 
talk at the Y. 'I think we were set up,' Mr. Kroft said. 'This is not 
designed to be a glowing profile of Paglia — I don't want to char- 
acterize it, actually — but one of Paglia's main points is that Steinem 
and Faludi and mainstream feminist leaders don't tolerate any dis- 
senting opinions. Without passing judgment on what happened, I 
think Steinem proved Paglia's point.' " 

Kathryn Robinson, "Camille Paglia's Ego: Feminist Camille Paglia 
is the smartest, sexiest, most provocative intellectual of our time. 
Just ask her." Seattle Weekly, October 14, 1992. On Paglia's lecture 
at University of Washing